A Face So Familiar

by Ducks

(Second revision 6/11/00; First revised 4/2/00; Originally posted 9/98)

Disclaimer: I don't own ‘em, and I don't get anything but joy from their use... thank you Joss & Co.!

Summary: Rain's life is pretty ordinary... until she sees a handsome stranger lurking in the crowd, watching her. Her view of the world, of love, and of time itself will never be the same.

Notes: Los Angeles,  Spring, 2290

Rating: R for language

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain:

It was a night like any other...

How many corny stories start out like that, do you think? Well, maybe my story is corny. But it's true, and it changed everything for me...

It was a night like any other... My girlfriends and I were at El Fresco, our favorite retro club downtown, celebrating the end of another school year. I was 21, almost a college graduate, ready... no, itching... to take over the world. We'd already danced most of the night way, dressed in our Friday best, flirting wildly with anything in pants... it was 2 am. Time to head for home. We waited under the awning outside while the doorman hailed us a cab.  I let my eyes wander over the departing crowds, waving to people I knew, checking out the clothes, the scene...

Then I noticed him. Just beyond the throng. I was pretty sure I didn't know him, but his face was so familiar, I was almost not surprised to see him watching me.

"Oh, my GOD, Rain! That babe is checking you out!" one of my girlfriends squealed.

Our eyes met... and time seemed to stop.  It was a scene just like all those clichι romance movies you see... He had a crooked half-smile... a look of pleasant surprise, like he had noticed something in me that he hadn't quite been expecting.  His eyes were deep set, dark and brooding, his skin pale and smooth. He wore black... jeans and an old-fashioned velvet duster... he stood there, apart from the others, but commanding all the space, the light and the shadows around him.

It was like seeing my dearest childhood friend for the first time since we'd grown up.

Then he was gone.

I stared at the spot where he'd been standing for a long time after he disappeared... the squealing and tittering of my friends sounded a million miles away, and I ignored their tugging and questions.

"Who was *that*?" finally registered in my brain.

I shook my head to bring myself back. I tried to shrug nonchalantly.

"I dunno." I said... and I didn't.

The cab came then and took us away.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two weeks later, I was coming out of the library close to 2 a.m. ... it was too late for a bus, and no cabby in their right mind would stop for an overdressed, tiny blonde girl standing alone on a street corner in the middle of the night...

It was a short walk to my apartment, but I cursed it anyway. You never could tell... I tried one more time to wave down a passing taxi. True to form, the driver ignored me.

Suddenly a shrill whistle came from behind me to my left. A cab immediately stopped and I swung around to see who my savior was.

It was him. I could barely make him out in the shadows, but I could see him enough to know...

*This* time he was smiling... Full-faced and beautiful, as bright as the sun.

"Thank you." I said, my usual witty remark far from my lips.

He was beautiful... he gave a little bow, said, "You're welcome," turned, and walked away down the street. I got into the cab automatically, not kicking myself until later for not following him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Months went by... the summer passed, my life went on, but I felt different, somehow... altered... awake. I thought of the Mystery Man often, finding myself looking for him everywhere in the shadows... but I never saw him again.

As young girls often do, I forgot about him, more or less. And by the fall I had other things on my mind. My boyfriend, Jerry and I, broke up -- okay, I broke up with him, and he was constantly at me -- calling me, showing up in weird places, distinctly uninvited. I guess you could conceivably say he was stalking me.

One night, he caught up with me outside the club, and I knew this time he wasn't going to back down. He was going to get his closure, no matter what it took.

I rolled my eyes at him to hide my growing fear. "It is SO OVER, Jerry... Please!"

He cut off my exit, " Who do you think you are, you snotty little bitch?! I gave you everything, and you blow me off like this?"

"Jerry, get over it." I snapped. Suddenly, he had me by the shoulders and slammed me up against the wall. I was scared, now, by the crazy look that was growing in his eyes...

I pushed him. He pushed back.

"Get the fuck OFF me, Jerry!" I screeched at him, feeling my adrenaline pumping.

He slapped me, hard, and gripped my shoulder enough to make me cry out.

"You're going to get back some of the pain you've given me..." He snarled.

"I don't think so." Came a voice from the shadows, and a huge fist surgically separated Jerry from me by smashing his face. He dropped like a stone without a sound.

I watched my ex-boyfriend, a rather large man, crumple like a pile of dirty laundry at my feet.  "Oh my god! Is he dead?" I squeaked at my as yet unknown savior.

Mystery Guy stepped from the shadows (how did he *DO* that?) To stand beside me, also looking down at Jerry.

I do believe I gaped at him, and possibly gasped aloud.

"He'll be fine." Said Mystery Guy, "But none too happy when he wakes up. Why don't you let me walk you home?"

Then he looked up and for the second time, our gazes locked. Again I had that feeling like I was standing in a tunnel, and everything was gone but he and I... and again I had that feeling that I knew this man better than anyone in the world. I could follow him everywhere, and I would always be safe by his side.

"Okay." I said without hesitation.

We started strolling toward my house, in silence. Magick literally crackled in the air around us. I couldn't stop staring at him, trying with all my might to place his face... he looked to be in his mid-twenties, but something in his proud bearing made him seem centuries older than that, even. It was funny, even his gait seemed familiar, as did the way he was dressed, the way he fidgeted with his hands, the particular curl of his hair...

...and the ring he wore... a crowned heart held between two hands... It rang some alarm deep in my memory that I could in no way identify, but it shook me to my foundation.

He occasionally flicked his gaze to me out of the corner of his eye, but avoided looking directly at me again.

"You've been following me." I suggested. It wasn't nearly the accusation it probably should have been. I found myself remembering a conversation I'd had with my friend Jasmine about stalkers. How nauseatingly hypocritical it was, that if a cute guy follows you around, he was being terribly romantic, but an ugly one doing the same was a stalker and could get a jail term... walking beside this familiar stranger, I began to understand the difference.

Mystery Guy finally met my gaze, but said nothing.

"How do I know I'm any safer with you than with Jerry?" I continued.

He stopped in his tracks and stared at me, brow furrowed, obviously hurt, for a moment.

"I suppose you don't know," He said, his voice heavy, "But you are... you have my word."

Somehow I knew in my soul that his word was enough. We resumed walking in silence, and we were soon at my front door.

I stopped. What should I say? I found I felt like I was under big pressure to do something, *NOW*, to stop this man from walking away again. But I could think of nothing momentous, cool, or even a tiny bit clever.

"Thanks." Was all I came up with, "Again."

He raised his eyes once more to mine and smiled that beautiful smile..."You're welcome. Again." He turned to walk away.

"Hey, wait!" I called after him, "Can you at least tell me your name?"

Mystery Guy turned and regarded me for a long moment with those intense eyes, as if he were surprised by my question, and uncertain how to answer it.

"It's Angel." He said, and once again disappeared into the shadows.

Huh. Somehow, that made sense.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Angel:

It was a Thursday. The knock on my door came at 10 am. The hour would have been downright rude, had I been sleeping, but I hadn't had a good day's rest in years, so I was sitting on my couch, passing the hours by reading.  Rude or not, I ignored the unwanted interruption.

The second knock was louder. Considerably louder... supernaturally louder, sounding like the door was six inches from me rather than 20 feet away. Annoyed, I rose to answer it.

It was The Whistler, which made me immediately nervous -- his appearances were always a portent of something serious about to happen.

"Hey, Angel," he said in that painfully cliche Brooklyn accent of his.

"Hey." I said.

"Long time no see, eh? What's it been, 200 years?"

"Give or take..."

"Yeah. Say, can I buy you a drink?" He gestured to the exit door behind him.

"It's ten in the morning," I said, despite realizing he already knew that.

He grinned. "Oops. Oh yeah... sensitive skin," he drawled.

I was unamused. I doubted it was terribly easy for Whistler to get around in the day, either. Demons were less likely to turn to dust, but they were still night-walkers, and standing in the light too long was extremely uncomfortable.

Something big must be up...

"What do you want?" I decided to cut to the chase.

"I got a surprise for ya. Can I come in?"

I let him in -- what else could I do? The little demon made a beeline for the kitchen and helped himself to a shot of whiskey from the cabinet.

"When'd you hit the sauce?" He asked, wiggling the bottle at me.

"None of your business." Actually, I hardly ever drank..."Whistler, why are you here? I'm going to guess it isn't to catch a buzz."

He nodded, gulping down another shot and making a satisfied smacking noise as he regarded the bottom of the glass.

"Actually, I'm always game to catch a buzz," he corrected me, "But... I thought I ought to let you know, a new Slayer is going to be called in the next few months... I got it on good authority..."

I didn't let him finish..." I'm not interested in the Slayer. I've had my lifetime's quota."

"Oh, you'll want to see this one." He chuckled.

"And why, exactly, is that?"

I wanted to smack the grin right off his ratty little face. Maybe I did technically owe him my life. Maybe I did technically owe him for the only love I ever knew... but I also technically owed him something much less pleasant for getting me sent to Hell, and spending the last two centuries in double the pain that I would have experienced had I remained alone...

It was a close call.

"You'll see." He said with a smirk, "Oh, *wait* until you see. Be outside the El Fresco dance club tomorrow night at closing time. Man, are you in for a treat!"

When the Whistler left, I was more than a little uneasy. What could a new Slayer possibly offer me except yet more pain and possibly death?

But, as it was, I didn't have anything to do the following night, and I was now consumed by my curiosity, so I headed to the trendy dance club on 23rd street. I decided my best course of action was to cast a little glamour on myself, helping me to blend with he shadows, then add the protection of not getting too close to any patrons, but remain in everyone's peripheral vision...

A vampire learned a lot of invisibility tricks over the centuries.

I arrived at just about 2 am, wondering what Whistler's game was. A new Slayer? I hadn't set eyes on a Slayer for close to 200 years, since the day that Buffy had died, an old woman, in my arms...

I didn't want anything to do with any Slayer... not ever again. I remember running over the 50 or so years that Buffy and I spent more or less together, and I felt tears burn my eyes... two centuries after her death, I still missed her... I still dreamt of her. I still talked to her ghost like a senile old man...

No sooner did I have that thought, then I saw her... the soon-to-be Slayer Whistler had sent me to look at...

There was no mistaking her. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, with long, golden blonde hair, huge eyes, a fair bubble gum complexion. Her smile lit up the air around her as she chatted with the girls that clustered around, all dressed in 21st century fashions -- now all the rage as "retro"... She was tiny, barely made average height by her platform shoes. She looked a little old to be Called, 20 at least, but I knew in these dark days, the Council took what they could get. I was dumbfounded, riveted... I know I must have let the glamour slip because now she was staring back at me...

It was Buffy.

I knew it couldn't be -- at least my rational brain knew... but my soul cried out -- my heart, long dormant, literally throbbed at the sight of her. It was all I could do not to bolt through the crowd and grab her, take her into my arms and kiss her with the might of two hundred years of loneliness.

But I held back. She had to be some descendant of Buffy's... We had never had any children, obviously, but I knew she had other family... my mind scrambled to find some explanation for the apparition, but there was none apparent. It was, without a doubt, Buffy. Her friends noticed me, too, and began a thrilled little dance, pointing me out to her.

But she had already seen. And I could tell from the shocked, and yet not shocked, look on her face that some fundamental part of her recognized me, and remembered our time together.

I finally composed myself and re-cast the shadow spell... she continued staring, and I wondered if maybe she could see through the trick...

Then a cab came and took the vision away.

I began following her regularly, much as I had her ancestor 250 years before. The Whistler told me she was Buffy reincarnated. Although he didn't know exactly when or how, he knew there was currently no Slayer, and this girl (whose name turned out to be Rain Summers) was related to the greatest Slayer in history by blood, and thus could be called any day.

To say I was trapped in a whirl of confused feelings would be an epic understatement.

So I watched her, always hidden. I watched her search for me, and longed to reveal myself to her. I did, once, when I knew she was being tracked by the dark forces, who scrambled to kill the next Slayer at the first opportunity. One night she presented the perfect one, leaving the library at the University in the middle of the night and failing to arrange safe transport. I released my camouflage long enough to hail her a taxi, which she nonchalantly thanked me for and then disappeared in the night.

I confronted the Whistler -- begged him to tell me why he had done this to me -- why he had dragged up pain that had almost faded by introducing me to a ghost in a situation he knew I would not be able to resist.

"She needs you." He said simply, "...and you *SURE* as hell need her."

It was an acceptable answer, and true, for my part.

What positive could possibly come of it, I didn't know and barely cared. What a precious opportunity, to share a second life time with one's true love...even if it was only from the shadows...

She stopped looking for me, eventually, making it easier to hide from her, but much more painful, for me. I watched her live her life, fall in and out of love. I began to wonder whether she would be called at all, so many months had gone by.

But the forces that opposed her were constantly vigilant. I spent more time keeping evil from this girl than I ever had with Buffy. But Rain never knew. I fought for her, wanting her to enjoy as much peace, as much ignorance, as possible, before the time I knew it would be stolen from her forever.

Such a battle happened the night we finally met. I lost track of her fending off an particularly nasty demon who was stalking her, trying to earn his bounty by being the one to kill the next Slayer before she was even Called...

When I located her again, she was in a much more mortal sort of danger from a boy she had dated for a few months -- Jerry, I think his name was.

He had Rain backed up against a wall, threatening her with violence, which I knew was a very *real* threat, because I could immediately smell his rage.

I would also smell her terror.

It took nothing at all for me to knock the kid out.

She asked if he was dead before she even saw who had saved her. A woman of compassion, even for those who didn't deserve it, just like her ancestor.

When she did turn to look at me, her face lit up with what I thought might be pleasant surprise, then clouded over with vague, pained recognition. Was it her soul who knew mine? I assured her he was fine and insisted on walking her home. Evil seemed to be gathering around her like a cloud, and I knew she would not have a safe moment again in this lifetime. It was time for me to give up the comfort of hiding, and accept the painful place I knew I had to take by her side as her protector.

As we walked, I found it was too painful to look at her... the way she moved, her uninterrupted consideration of me...and yet I couldn't help but steal glances, recognizing the soft, living glow of her skin, and the shining green of her eyes.

She commented that she knew I'd been following her. Her voice told me she trusted me, for some reason, deep inside, instinctually. But her city-bred caution continued to tell her that this was all wrong.

"How do I know I'm any safer with you than with Jerry?" She asked.

The question shocked and hurt me, catching me off guard for a moment. How could she not know? But I reassured her anyway, seemingly satisfying her. The too-short but too-long walk to her apartment came to an end.

Rain thanked me politely. I told her she was welcome, and began to make my exit before anything more awkward or painful could be said. My heart hurt.

She approached me again as I walked away.

"Can you at least tell me your name?" She asked, her tone pleading a little.

I looked up at her for a long time, caressing her face, so familiar, in my mind, remembering how this stranger's lips tasted, how sweet her breath smelled...

It was like introducing myself to my closest friend.

"It's Angel," I said. I saw something flash in her eyes, and then I dragged myself away.

It had begun.

What Rain doesn't know is that she is the mirror image of her ancestor, the great Vampire Slayer, Buffy Summers.  She also doesn't know that Angel was Buffy's lover for close to 90 years, or that Rain herself is about to be called to the same sacred duty as the one that drove both Angel and Buffy's lives.

Rain reflects on her relationship with the mysterious, yet familiar, stranger, and the life-changing event of her Calling.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Destiny.

It's a simple word, really, made up of seven simple letters... one of those words that gets knocked around so much that it kind of loses its original punch.  I think it was even the name of a car, once.  Most people don't think about destiny much -- they dismiss it as some old-fashioned, romantic notion best left to ancient pop novels and poetry.

I know *I* wasn't thinking about Destiny, when mine found me.

It was just before spring.  I remember because the sky was so bright and blue that February, it was almost like the atmosphere had burned away from the planet, and left nothing but the soothing warmth of the still-distant sun.  Of course, I do realize that the perfect blue sky was the atmosphere, but you get my meaning.

My life up to that point had been pretty ordinary.  It had a normal rhythm and texture to it, just like millions of others in the world, with the ebb and flow of change that paces every woman's life.  I was a happy child, a happy teenager, a happy young woman... I had a wonderful, if geographically distant family.  I had a group of friends I really liked, a pretty active social life, a kick ass wardrobe, and a brand-new degree in Psychology on the mantel.  Life was smooth and easy, bright and full of promise, just like the sky, that early spring.

Meeting Angel the previous year didn't change that, right away.  Or maybe it did, I'm not sure I can remember accurately, anymore.  It seems like, for a while, he was only on the edge of my mind, outside the rhythm of my existence, like an extra note in my life's symphonic score.  But I liked him there.  He was Mystery Guy, tall, dark, and ravishing, who always showed up at just the right moment to lend a desperately needed helping hand.

The first time I saw him, it blew me away.  Not just his physical beauty -- although there was that -- but the fact that he felt comfortable and familiar and exhilarating to me, as if I had known him my entire life.  I felt it right away, and each time we met, like it was part of my cellular programming.

And that was before he even told me his name.

I'm pretty certain that was the catalyst.  That was the moment that the sky cracked open and started sucking my old life away, replacing it with this half-fairy tale, half-nightmare that I live now.  At the time, I didn't know anything about Destiny, or Sacred Duty, or the whole Anam Cara thing.  That all came later.  All I saw was this tall, gorgeous, strong, brilliant, and gentle guy who seemed to get some kick out of watching my back.  Who was I to argue?  All it took was for him to speak the words:  "I'm Angel," and I was done.

I fell for him like a rock.  It was easy and simple, just like the rest of my life back then.  No angst or woe or melodrama... The fact that I knew nothing about him -- not what he did, or where he was from, or even his last name -- didn't matter one tiny bit.  I just wanted him, like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Once I knew his name, after that first night he walked me home, I started seeing him everywhere -- at the gym, in the clubs, at the museum where I worked part time... It was his extensive knowledge of fine art, I think, that finally made us become friends.  We would stop for coffee and talk, and Angel would walk me home.  It wasn't long before he would come over and watch TV at my apartment, or accompany me to galleries or recitals or concerts, on those occasions when I didn't have a date... or didn't want one.

Angel was my bud.  He helped me with my grocery bags, he helped me take out the garbage.  He even fixed my car, once -- and did all those other little things that constantly need doing in an apartment.  He was that man every single woman feels is nice to have around.

He was an odd sort, to be sure.  Okay, so, I could even say weird, and it wouldn't be too far from accurate.  He read Moliere and watched football.  He could talk about Degas in one breath, and 20th century teen horror flicks in the next.  He was a gourmet cook, but never balked at the opportunity to slam a pizza or some nachos.  He was soft-spoken and gentle, but I'd seen him drop my leviathan of an ex-boyfriend with a single punch.  He was practically a Zen master in his unflappably calm demeanor, and yet I knew he possessed a pretty scary knowledge of war and weapons, as well.  He liked opera... he liked jazz... he liked country... he liked rock.

I was crazy about him.  I mean, like, batty -- out of my skull, doing back flips, mad about the boy.  Everything about him attracted me, including all of his secrets.  I don't think I was ever unclear about my feelings for Angel.  Although I don't think I ever came right out and told him, it must have been obvious, how I felt.

But he was a perfect gentleman, on top of everything else.  He never once tried to lay a finger on me.  In fact, Angel was a compulsively "Big Personal Space" guy.  Despite our many late nights and sometimes deeply emotional conversations, he never touched me.  Not once.  Not sexually, or in any other way:  no hugs, no friendly kisses on the cheek.  Hell, I don't think he ever came closer than a few feet away from me, even when he was teaching me how to fight.

By that February, I was beginning to think I'd lost my touch.  Either that, or Angel -- my gorgeous, sexy, amazing Dark Angel -- didn't want me because he was as gay as the day was long.

Who am I kidding?  I knew Angel wasn't gay, no matter what I tried to convince myself.  I caught him looking at me out of the corner of his eye when he thought I wasn't paying attention.  I knew he watched me, even when he didn't make his presence known.  I could see the appreciation in his eyes when I got dressed up, changed my hair, or tried a new lipstick.

I knew he liked me.  But for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why he didn't want me.  I was practically consumed by desire for him, all of the time.  But Angel always treated me with courtesy and respect, like a best friend's younger sister.

So, being the pushy broad that I am, I asked him about it one night.  We had just eaten enough Mexican food to feed the whole of Central America, and we sat in front of the TV, watching old westerns, and sucking down shots of tequila.

Even Angel's shots were perfect -- the salt lick, the guzzle, the sucking of the lime -- all in one graceful, flawless motion, like he'd done it every day forever.  Every move Angel made seemed calculated, thoroughly thought out, and comfortable, to him.  He was amazing.

Did I mention I was really drunk when I confronted him?  I should have, because it's important.

I sat, curled up on my couch, watching him watch TV.  After a while, he noticed I was staring, and turned those dark eyes on me, making me feel like he had pierced my soul.

"What?" he asked, noticing my idiot-gaping expression.

"Do you think I'm attractive?" I asked him.

Angel started, a little, but his posture immediately returned to normal.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

I shot him a look, "You know what I mean.  You, man... me, woman..."

He stopped trying to evade me, knowing full well I wouldn't give up until I got the answers that I sought.

"Of course, I think you're attractive," he said.  Turning back to the TV and keeping his neutral tone, he added, "You're the most beautiful person I've ever seen."

Okay, so I hadn't been expecting that.  His answer only confused me more.  I slid closer to him, on the couch.  I liked being close to Angel -- I'm a pretty small woman, and he seemed like a giant, beside me.  Another strange attraction: the fact that he could probably crush me without much effort, and yet didn't.  It was a definite turn-on.

Angel turned to look at me once again, watching with cautious interest as I moved closer, and looked into his eyes.

"Do you like me, Angel?" I asked him.

His expression remained impassive, but I could see something burning in his deep brown eyes...

"Of course," he answered, as if it should be obvious.

I leaned closer, and saw him lick his lips unconsciously -- usually a sure sign that a girl is about to kiss or be kissed.  I got a couple of inches from him, and he began to pull away slowly.  Drunk as I was, and steeled by his admission that he thought I was beautiful, I pressed on.  I was going to get a taste of those lips!

Angel looked at me in shock for a moment, then abruptly got up.

"I should go," he said, and grabbed his coat from the chair near the door.

I jumped to my feet and stood as tall as I could.  He was, of course, still a good foot taller, and at least twice my weight, so I don't think I was intimidating him as much as I would have liked.  Slow and easy hadn't worked, so now, on to Plan B:  Pure Aggression.  I grabbed Angel and yanked him down to me, sealing my lips firmly on his.

It was like being struck by lightning.  My vision swam and my heart pounded, and it was all I could do not to faint from the pure electric thrill of it.  It was a simple kiss, like a million others I'd given or received before, but it rocked me to my foundations.

Still not touching me, Angel pulled away.  The way he looked at me... like I was some wild creature trying to eat him, and he wanted me to... I knew for certain, in that second, that he did want me.  But there was such an edge of pain and fear on his usually cool features, my ardor cooled faster than a fireplace ember in a meat locker.

"I'm sorry, Rain," he said softly, "You're my friend.  I don't want to hurt you.  But we can't... get involved... like that."

I was dizzy and unable to stand anymore, so I sank back down to the couch and looked up at him.

"Why not? Do you already have a girlfriend?" I asked.

He closed his eyes briefly, then looked back into mine again.  "No," he said.

"Are you gay?"

His brow scrunched.  "No."

"Then again, I ask: why not?"

Angel looked down at me, like he was remembering something from a long time ago.  I wondered what it was... an old heartbreak, maybe?  I could feel this pain coming off him in waves, all the time, no matter how much he tried to hide it.  Usually, I figured, it was just some weird loner vibe.  But all of a sudden, it was what was standing in the way of us being together.  Or at least, that's what I thought.

"Please," he said, "Just trust me when I say it's not a good idea."

I blinked at him, hurt and embarrassed, and growing annoyed at the way the room was starting to spin.

He sighed.  "Rain... there are a lot of things you don't know about me.  About my past.  I like our friendship the way that it is.  Don't think that it's you... I do think you're very attractive.  I've thought about..." he blinked, reconsidering what he was saying, "Don't push this, Rain.  I'm asking you, if you care about me, not to push."

I stared at him, wavering in and out of focus before me.

"I'm gonna be sick," I said.

I dashed for the bathroom and promptly puked my guts out.  Angel followed me in and held my long hair back while I totally lost it, alternating between barfing and crying.

Romantic, isn't it?  One of my life's most glorious moments.

But he didn't seem to mind.  He gently carried me to my bed, removing my socks and jeans like a true gentleman, with his eyes averted.  He tucked me in, and forced three Tylenols and a big glass of water down my throat.  I lay back and looked up at him, wishing he would stand still and stop spinning so I could say what I had to say.

"I think I love you," I told him.

Angel smiled... that little, crooked smile I so rarely got to see, but said nothing.

Unconsciousness was quickly catching up with me.  My empty stomach lurched, and I leaned over my garbage can to dry heave, with Angel softly caressing my back.  Finally, I leaned back onto the pillows, and he sat in the chair nearby.

"I think I'm dying..." I moaned.

He chuckled.  "You're not... but you'll wish you did, tomorrow."

"I don't get it," I mumbled, closing my eyes, "You think I'm beautiful, you're not gay, and you don't have a girlfriend, so... why don't you love me?"

I don't know if I was actually expecting him to answer.  I more or less passed out the minute the words were past my lips.  But, I could swear I heard him say:

"I do... I always have."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two weeks passed.  Angel never brought up the Tequila incident, and neither did I.  We fell easily back into the Best Buddy routine,  but all of a sudden, we were spending a lot more time working out.  He told me he was worried about my safety, as much time as I spent out at night.  He said it made him feel better, if I could really handle myself in a fight, if I had to.

He taught me more about various kinds of swordfighting (obviously his favorite), martial arts, and even meditation and concentration exercises.  He took advantage of my natural psychic abilities, and taught me how to reach out with my senses to measure an attacker's proximity, size, and speed.  He gave me instruction on using a crossbow, all kinds of knives, and how to handle almost any object I found on the ground as a weapon.  I felt like Luke Skywalker, or La Femme Nikita, or something, and Angel was my Obi-Wan (although, granted, a much more attractive mentor...).  It was very cool.  Here I was, this little, tiny chick, and I was swiftly learning how to kick some major ass.

Of course, any excuse to get close to Angel was fine with me, anyway.  He seemed to be a little more comfortable touching me, but only when it was necessary to adjust my posture, stance, or whatever weapon I was using.   Still nothing on the personal end.

It was pretty strange.  Angel told me I had a special gift for fighting, and he thought it was one I should develop.  When he said stuff like that, I used to just give him a look.  Now that I'd been honest with my feelings about him, his increasing desire to play some weird Sensei role was absolutely confounding, to me.  But, keeping the Tequila incident square in the front of my mind, and liking his closeness as teacher more than his out and out rejection of my advances, I kept my mouth shut.

Given time, I was sure he would come around.

But I was still a young woman, and still full of all kinds of romantic fantasies, so when Collin Roarke,  the son of one of the wealthier patrons of the museum asked me out on a date for Valentine's Day, I said yes.  I mean, a girl needs flowers and chocolates, right?  And I doubted Angel-san would be coming through with any wooing.  Besides, there's nothing like a little jealousy to give a reluctant guy a kick in the ass, right?

If I had known all of the things I now know about Angel then, I wouldn't have been so quick to play games with him.

It was 7:00 p.m. on Friday night, when my doorbell rang.  Collin wasn't due until 8, so I was still in robe, curlers, and bunny slippers when I ran for the door.

"Angel... hey," I said, moving aside to let him in.

"Hi," he said, fidgeting with a little wrapped package he held in his hand.

I looked at it.  Definitely not flowers.  And if it was a box of chocolates, then he must have thought I needed to go on a diet.

"Come on upstairs," I told him, "I have to finish getting dressed."

We walked to my bedroom, and he stood, obviously uncomfortable, in my doorway.

I smiled at his shyness, "I promise I won't jump you," I said.

His tension broke, and he smiled at me.  "As long as you promise," he said.

I looked down at the gift again.  "Is that for me?"

Angel looked down at it -- he'd probably forgotten it was there.  He chuckled nervously and held it out.  "Happy Valentine's Day," he said.

I took it and happily tore the bright red paper away, revealing a beautiful black lacquered box.

"Wow..." I said, "It's beautiful..."

"Open it," he encouraged softly.

I did, and almost fell over.  It was a silver cross of exquisitely hand tooled silver, edged with a delicate Celtic-style border.

"Oh," I gasped, "Angel.  You shouldn't have.  This is just..."

I looked up at him, and saw again that strange expression I so often caught sneaking across his features -- some odd mixture of happiness and unfathomable sorrow, as if each gesture he made toward me was somehow as painful as it was genuine.  His eyes met mine, and I was suddenly twice as speechless.  I remember wondering if he would be upset when my heart exploded and I dropped dead right in front of him.

Then his neutral mask fell back into place, and it seemed like I might survive after all.

"I hoped you'd like it," he said, and smiled.

"I do.  Thank you," I said, trying to fight the urge to hug him, "Oh! I got you something too!"

I grabbed the gift and brought it to him, watching as he carefully undid the scotch tape and unwrapped it.  So fastidious, my Angel...

He stared at it.  It was an antique journal I'd found in one of my favorite junk shops down on 3rd.  It was still in perfect condition, the heavy cover not even faded, and the hundreds of pages of fine parchment still not showing the drying signs of age the shop owner said was common.  A good find, on my part.

Angel read my inscription:  "To the best friend I've ever had.  Rain", and looked up at me again.

"Thank you.  It's lovely," he said sincerely.

I smiled.  "I thought maybe you could use a place to write down the products of all your endless brooding," I joked.

He chuckled, "A journal is always a good thing," he agreed, "Helps me keep my thoughts straight."

I rolled my eyes.  "Sure it does.  Well, I'm glad you like it," I looked up at the clock, "Shit.  I've got to hurry."  I ran back to the bathroom, leaving Angel sitting at the edge of my bed, staring at his gift.

"You're going out?" he asked, obviously trying to sound casual.

I stifled a knowing giggle.  Yes, sir, nothing like a little jealousy...

"Yeah.  You know Mrs. Roarke? That old bag the Romantic wing is named after?  Her son's taking me to dinner," I replied.

Nothing from Angel.  I poked my head around the corner and looked at him.  He had exactly the same calm expression, and sat in exactly the same position I'd left him in.  He looked up at me.

"Good," he said, "You should go out more."

I ducked back into the bathroom so he couldn't see my disappointed scowl.  I really wanted him to object, but I should have known better.  I yanked the curlers out of my hair and brushed it out, then pulled off my robe and slipped into the wine-colored cocktail dress I'd bought especially for the occasion.  Then I checked my details, spritzed on a little perfume, and walked back out again.

"Ta da!" I announced, and slowly spun for his inspection, "What do you think?"

He stared at me, his brow furrowed.

"What?" I asked, "Oh, please don't tell me there's a stain on it... Oh... wait... does this make me look fat? Damn! I knew it!"

Angel stared at me for another moment, then stood, taking me in from head to toe and back again.  His glance was so intense, it was almost a physical caress, and I shivered in spite of myself.

He shook his head a little.  "No," he answered evenly, and mustered a warm smile, "You look... really great."

I cocked an eyebrow at him, " 'Really great'? All that poetry, and that's the best you can come up with?"

He took a hesitant step toward me, but his expression didn't change.  I tried to pretend I wasn't getting more and more breathless as he came closer.

"Okay... How about... stunning?  Incredible? Devine? Magnificent? Ravishing?" he said, his smile slipping away and his voice low.  There was a heartbeat between each adjective, and I could feel the magick... the truth that he always hid from me, in the words.

I forced a smile and tried to stay collected as I blushed madly, "That's better..."

In another second, I was going to attack him, if I didn't move away.  His proximity was sucking all of the oxygen out of the air, and I was starting to get dizzy.  So I backed up to my bureau, claimed the necklace he'd given me from the top and handed it to him.

"Could you..." I asked, and turned my back to him.

I could feel Angel's breath on the back of my neck as he carefully slid the necklace in place and did the delicate clasp.

I slowly turned and found my face only inches from his.  His eyes were locked on my lips, and for a second, maybe two, I was certain he was going to kiss me.

But he backed away and broke the spell.

"It looks nice on you," he observed, not bothering to hide that his breathing had become a little rough, too.

Unable to speak, I reached up and touched the pendant at my throat as I looked at him, and he looked at me, and I got that feeling again... That feeling like there was nothing else in the world but Angel and I, and that it had always been that way, since the beginning of time.  I felt warmth flow through me, and electricity crackle around me, and all of a sudden, something in my mind seemed to break.  That safe, familiar feeling that I always had toward him seemed to get stronger, almost overwhelming me, making me feel like there was something important I was supposed to remember, but couldn't, quite...

The doorbell rang, and the moment was shattered.  I bent over to slide on my shoes and snatched my bag off the chair as I ran for the door.  I practically broke my neck stumbling down the stairs, calling "Just a minute!" as I plunged into the front closet, searching for my wrap.  It was nowhere to be found amongst all the crap I kept stowed there.  I cursed and bitched as I tossed shoes and boots and sporting equipment aside.

Finally, I gave up and stood, trying to catch my breath, turning to reach for the door.

Which allowed me to run smack into Angel, who had somehow simply appeared behind me.  I almost knocked him flat from an automatic defensive response that he taught me.

"Jesus!" I snapped at him, "Could you not do that?"

"Sorry," he said contritely, and held up the missing wrap, "Is this what you're looking for?"

I tried to be annoyed with him, I really did.  But my heart pounding in my chest choked me from scolding him further, so I just turned around and relished the feeling of his big hands laying the soft cotton across my shoulders.  Collecting myself (again), I turned around.

"Thanks," I managed to mutter, and reached for the door, "Could you lock up when you leave?"

"Sure," he said, "Have a good time."

With a final glance, I left him standing there, and walked out of the completely mind-blowing presence of one stranger, into the only vaguely interesting company of another.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I didn't see Angel for three days after that.  He didn't return my calls, didn't appear, nothing.  I know it was exactly three days because each one is noted with a string of sobbing lamentations and capitalized curse words, in my journal.

I don't think I've ever really forgiven him for not being by my side when Destiny finally came to call.  It was late Tuesday afternoon when my doorbell rang.  I almost didn't hear it, because I was vacuuming and listening to Madame Butterfly at full volume.  

I wonder -- how would my life have been different if I hadn't felt that strange twitch in my gut, and thought maybe Angel had finally returned?  Would Roger Lowenthal have gone away and never come back?

I doubt it, but, hey... a girl can dream, right?

As it was, I did feel that twitching, and I did assume it was Angel at the door, so I cut the vacuum, turned down the stereo, and went to answer the frantic knocking I finally heard.

I paused for a quick second, rifling through my mental index of derisive commentary, looking for something sufficiently blazing to express my anger at Angel for going suddenly incommunicado on me.

I don't remember what I had chosen to say, because the thought was completely erased from my mind when I opened the door.  Not only was the visitor not Angel, he was practically the Anti-Angel:  short, blonde, fat, and wearing the worst poly-blend suit I'd ever seen.  He carried a ratty briefcase that appeared to be far older than myself and the stranger put together.

I stared at the little man on my front step.

"Um... listen," I said, not opening the screen door, "If you're selling God or Jesus or something, you can save your breath."

"Oh.  No.  No.  I'm looking for... er... Miss Summers.  Miss Rain Summers," the stranger said with a crisp British accent.

"Really? Well, she's not home," I said, thinking he might be after me for a student loan payment or something, "Unless you're from Publisher's Clearing House.  I could use ten million bucks.."

The little Englishman blinked in confusion, "No... I..."

"Listen.  Just for the record? If you're selling anything, I'm not buying.  I have a vacuum cleaner, I have a set of encyclopedia disks, and I don't cook enough to rate investing in anything that slices, dices, chops, or..."

"Miss Summers, please," Tacky Suit interrupted, "I have come a very long way to speak to you on a matter of utmost importance.  It is quite urgent, I assure you, and no money is in any way involved."

I continued looking at him through the screen door.  Totally curious... and getting kind of nervous, besides...

"No offense, Mr. uh..."

"Lowenthal.  Roger Lowenthal," he said, rifling through the pocket of his jacket.  He fished out a card and held it up to the door.

Roger Stevenson Lowenthal
Representative
Watchers' Council of Britain

I wasn't impressed.  "That's nice, Mr. Lowenthal, but FYI? Most women aren't going to just let some strange guy in their house, no matter how nice their linen calling card is.  So, maybe you could just cut to the chase and tell my why you are here."

His face clouded into a very dire scowl.  I almost slammed the door in his face, and ran.

"Miss Summers... I represent an ancient society of scholars that have, since time immemorial, been  the defenders of humanity against evil.  Or rather, we have trained those who do the defending.  You have been Called.  You are the Chosen One, and I am here to begin that training with you."

I let him in.  I mean, why would an axe-murderer, serial rapist, or bill collector bother with such an incredible story? Besides, I was curious, and I was pretty certain I could kick the frumpy little man's ass without too much effort.

Roger Lowenthal shattered my reality.  He talked for most of an hour -- about vampires and demons and the dire predicament of humankind.  He talked about the End Days, and how virulent monsters walked the Earth far before the first ancestor of humanity, and how, since that time, there had always been a single warrior -- a mystical girl-child -- who was chosen by The Powers That Be to stand against the evil.  How they were Called and trained to fight, and how they lived short and often tragic lives.  And how there could only be One.

Two things kept popping into my head:  a 20th century movie Angel and I had rented, called Highlander, and Angel himself.  Angel's sudden appearance in my life... Angels' vehement insistence on teaching me how to fight...

"So... you're saying I'm this Chosen One..." I said, still completely unconvinced, and swiftly beginning to regret my decision to let Roger Lowenthal in.

"Yes," he said simply.

I sneered at him, "You're kidding, right? I'm some General in the Army of the Forces of Good? Mister, you're nuts.  What are you really playing at?"

"I assure you, Miss Summers, I am not playing at anything.  I am quite serious," he replied.

I've always been a little bit empathic (except with Angel, unfortunately...), and I could feel that, at the very least, Roger believed what he was telling me.

"Exactly how do you know it's me?" I asked him, "How did I get chosen? Do you draw lots or something?"

He almost smiled.  "No, it's nothing like that.  We have... seers, if you will.  Powerful messengers who receive signs that foretell the death of one Slayer, and the Calling of the next."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa." I said, holding up my hand to stop him, "You mean to tell me somebody died? Some poor girl got eaten by some monster, and that's why you're here?"

Roger seemed surprised by my outburst, "Of course.  With several notable exceptions in our history, as I told you, there can be only one Slayer.  The next is Called when the last dies."

So now the short, tragic life-span part of the story was starting to make sense.  A very unpleasant sort of sense.

"So you think I should be the next sucker to step up and get tossed into Hell or whatever," I snapped, "Buddy, you're out of your tree.  And you're also out of my apartment."

I stood and grabbed him by his tacky little arm and dragged him back to the front door, briefcase and all.  He brought his hands up against the door jamb to keep me from pitching him out like a sack of potatoes, and strained to turn his wild eyes on me.

"Miss Summers, please! It has already begun!" he yelped frantically, "Haven't you noticed your increasing strength and agility since you reached puberty? Don't you often observe things in the shadows that no one else sees?" 

I froze.  I did.

He noticed the change in my demeanor, and jumped on it, "Do you not have the Summer's mark on your let hip? A heart-shaped birthmark with a short line protruding from the top?"

I let him go.  Nobody who wasn't my parents or somebody I'd had wild sex with knew about my birthmark.  I was pretty certain this guy wasn't either of my parents, and I knew I hadn't had sex with him.

"How did you know about that?" I hissed.

Roger straightened his coat and looked at me smugly, "You come from a bloodline that includes the greatest Slayer in history.  You are her direct descendant, and you bear the mark that began with her.  It has been foretold," he said.

Chewing my lip furiously, I stared at him.  Maybe he wasn't a total nutcase, maybe he was telling the truth.  But that didn't mean I had to like anything that he was saying, and that sure as Hell didn't mean I had to play along with his little Slayer game.

I sighed deeply, "Look, Mr. Lowenthal, I'm sure you mean well, and I'm sure your little Council or whatever has done tons of good deeds for the world.  But I have a job.  It may not be fighting evil, but it's mine.  I have a life.  And I'm really not in the market for another one, especially if it involves monsters and demons and such.  So, I think you should probably just leave before I freak out and use my "Slayer strength" on you."

I was half-joking, but he flinched anyway.

"As you wish, Miss Summers.  You'll certainly need some time to process what I have told you tonight.  But please, I beg you, do not take too long.  Time is running short, and the Forces of Evil already gather about you."

I looked into his eyes, and he held my gaze.

"You have my card," he added, "Don't hesitate to call anytime, and we can begin your training."

Roger Lowenthal, of the Watchers' Council of Britain, turned and left, leaving me staring out into the sunset after him, feeling my reality crumble around my ears.  I slammed the door with all of my might.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To say I was freaked out was a bit of an understatement.  Add frightened out of my wits, and incredibly pissed off, plus still very incredulous, and you might be closer to the mark.  But something deep inside of me knew that Roger was telling the truth.  Even though my rational brain didn't believe in vampires or monster hunters, or even Hell, really, some part of my deepest self knew it was true, and that the knowledge had always been there, whether I realized it or not.

So, when you're a formerly run-of-the-mill 22 year-old with a pretty ordinary life, and you find out that you're some kind of avenging warrior with a Sacred Duty to give that life fighting nightmares, how do you deal? How do you cope with your entire reality crashing down around you?  If you're me, you walk to the liquor store, by a quart of Jack Daniels on credit, and drink yourself into a blubbering, railing stupor.

And then you call your best friend.  Predictably, his machine picked up.  I have no idea what I said to it, but within a half an hour, Angel walked back into my house, finding me a total disaster, curled up on the couch in the dark, sucking down the last half of the whiskey.

He stood in the doorway, quietly looking at me.  I couldn't see his face, or even really his posture, due to the fact that I had never bothered to turn on a light after Lowenthal left.  I stared at his broad silhouette anyway.

"Where the fuck have you been?" I snapped/slurred at him.

Angel said nothing.

"Listen.  If you've got something to say, say it, otherwise, get the Hell out and go crawl back into your hole or wherever it is you crawl off to.  I don't need you."  I clumsily turned away, giving my full attention to gulping down more numbing sour mash.

I felt him move across the room.  I used to think it was funny, the way I could sense him, even when I couldn't see him.  I could predict his movements, and even his words and expressions, with an increasing accuracy.  Now, realizing it was some superpower or something, and not some amazing connection between us, it didn't seem so cute and funny anymore.

Angel reached down and gently took the bottle out of my hands, setting it out of my reach on the coffee table.

"You called me," he reminded me softly.

I looked up.  Now I could see his beautiful face, lit by the streetlights' pale glow from my living room window.

"Oh.  Right," I said, and burst into tears.

He sat down, and for the first time since I'd known him, took me in his strong arms.  I collapsed against his chest and cried like a baby, knowing that was the safest place in the world for me to be.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Angel:

Whistler once told me I was... what was the word he used? I believe it was "poignant".

Poignant. At the time, the comment passed right by me, unnoticed. Probably because eighty years of guilt and starvation had left me more than a little muddled.

A demon with a soul. An immortal with a human heart... and human memories. The descriptions of my state of being sometimes marched across my mind -- the band leaders in the parade of pain that has been my life. It consumes every one of my thoughts, some days...

If I'd had the chance to think about Whistler's comment clearly at the time, no doubt I would have punched the demon in his ratty little face. Poignant, indeed.

But... I hadn't had the presence of mind to do it. That was almost 250 years ago, now... And now I found myself sitting in my office, thinking about that very thing -- the poignancy of my relationship with the Slayer. Another Slayer.  A different Slayer, and yet, fundamentally, the same one. The only soul I've ever truly loved was contained within this woman, who lived centuries after Buffy's death. I had known of her rebirth, thanks once again to the Whistler, and I'd gone to her, as he knew that I would... hoping to keep her safe until she was Called... and, perhaps, after.

When this began, I thought that keeping my distance -- and my secrets -- was the best way to handle things, this time. I should have known better... my attempts had failed with Buffy, as well. No reason this should be any different.

Of course I was in love with Rain. I'd been in love with her for half my life, whether she remembered who she was, or who I was, or not. But I refused to put her through what Buffy had had to go through, in spite of my feelings. So I played the dutiful friend and mentor, keeping her at arms length, protecting her from the shadows she had yet to see, and teaching her to protect herself.

But always, always at arms length.... never closer.

It wasn't easy. I knew she had feelings for me, and more than once, we came close to crossing that line... When all the hidden truths within us would come bursting to the surface, and there would be no more hiding...

But I dodged them, somehow, like the deadly projectiles I knew they would be.  The last time, when I came so close to kissing her, on Valentine's Day, I ran.  Bolted like a coward, unable to handle the rush of feeling that stifled my breath and my good sense in a single, crushing motion. I didn't call her. I didn't stop by. I avoided all the places I usually came into contact with her. I collapsed in on myself and my memories of Buffy, and swore that I would never go near Rain Summers again, even if she did wear my beloved's face and bear her soul. I couldn't... wouldn't... go through that again. Nor would I put some other poor woman through it. It would be like making Buffy relive every nightmarish moment of our relationship. And there was no way I would do that to her... no way I would injure her soul yet again.

Then I got the message. Rain was crying hysterically, obviously distraught, ranting and raving about some "asshole Brit" who tried to convince her she was "some kind of fucking superhero or something", and that she was going to die and go to Hell.  And she wanted to know where the Hell I was.

Rain had been Called, and I was nowhere to be found. Some champion.

And so, true to form, I went to her. What choice did I have?

She was, as I had suspected, enraged to the point of senselessness, sitting in the darkness, alone. I could feel the shock, anger    and pain coming off her in    waves, but she kept her tough demeanor and started swearing at me, instead of    breaking down. Only the shaking of her body gave away her fear.

I didn't ask her what was wrong. I already knew, far too well. It was a moment    I'd been waiting for for over a year.    Protecting her had become a full-time job, requiring that I even follow her in the day, to keep the evil from her. I was    starting to wonder what the Hell the Council was waiting for. Rain was already too old to be called, and dangerously untrained. So I'd taken it upon myself to teach her everything I knew, basing my choices of combat styles on Buffy's, hoping their strengths would be similar. Thankfully, I was correct. With the exception of her extraordinary psychic abilities, Rain's style was identical to Buffy's -- tight, fast, efficient, and hard, with a particular flair.

Watching Rain move was like seeing a million scenes of my life all over again. A very heady experience.

So now, there it was. The Calling. It was all uphill, from here. 

I held her for the first time, that night, broken and crying in my arms. Gods, I loved her. Loved her still, as I had for over 200 years... as much as the first time I realized I did. Maybe more...

Rain was so tiny... so warm... I felt her pain in my bones as I held her, and she sobbed over the remains of her once-normal life, that washed away with her tears.

I felt horrible for not being there when it happened. But even so, I was also glad I hadn't been. The Watcher might have known who I was, if he was a good student. And how could I possibly explain my presence, my purpose, to Rain? She had accepted me into her life without question, with a deep trust that must have come from her soul's memory. For her to find out the rest... she would most certainly see it as a betrayal of that trust.

How could I tell her? How could I possibly explain over 500 years of life, to this young woman who didn't even believe in souls, or vampires, or any of the other fantastic things required to fully understand the story? How could I explain to her that I had loved her hundreds of years before she was born? That I had spent another lifetime with her, an eon ago? Or how I had been in mourning for her for 200 years?

She would never have believed me. And even if she had, she surely would have hated me for it. Knowing would have torn her sense of self... of time, of love, of the fabric of reality, asunder.

I couldn't hurt her like that.

So I'd done the easier thing -- the thing I best knew how to do -- I kept my secrets to myself, and I taught her how to fight. But somewhere along the line, she fell in love with me. I could see it in her green eyes... her smile... I could feel it in the way her heart beat and her blood sang when we were close.

It was unbearable, to have to hold back from returning those feelings, which hadn't faded even the tiniest bit, since her soul had left this realm... left me alone, with only my dreams and memories of her.  But the Whistler had done it again -- reconnected us, throwing my broken heart into a tailspin of confusion and doubt... of more longing and love than I had ever before experienced.

Can you imagine the sensation of seeing your long-dead lover, suddenly alive once again? I wanted to rail about the unfairness of it all. But truth be told, just being able to see my heart's mate again, alive and full of life... made every moment of the pain well worth it.

The night Rain was Called, she shouted and cried herself hoarse, in my arms. And after two straight hours of holding her while she wailed senselessly, she finally and simply lost consciousness, slumping against me. I held her like that for a long time, remembering... wondering if there was any way under the Heavens that things could again be between us the way they once were...

I thought a lot about the day Buffy and I were married, after almost ten years wasted playing foolish "Come here - go away" games with one another... That starry night, we took vows before our loved ones and the Powers That Be, to be together. Not until the day we died, but "until the end of time."

225 years later... but it was still time, right? Our vows still stood, blazing as strongly in my soul as the day I had spoken them, looking into Buffy's perfect green eyes as I slid the simple silver band on her finger. I still wore the matching band, along with hers, on a chain around my neck.  Could I now forsake those vows, for Rain? Was I bound to this incarnation of my life's only love? And if I was, was it fair to expect her to be bound to me?

As I carried Rain gently to her room, unable to tear my eyes from her beautiful face, I simply wasn't sure. It was as it had always been, between us. I loved her, but I wasn't certain I should. She loved me, but I knew I didn't deserve it.

I tucked her into her bed, and sat in the chair alongside, watching the deep and even rise and fall of her breathing, listening to the familiar rhythm of her heartbeat like soothing music, and wondered -- what would I tell her, when she woke? How would I answer her pointed, and understandably angry, questions? Should I tell her everything?

The moonlight glanced off the cross I'd given her for Valentine's Day, and I knew. I would have to be honest, but only to a point. This woman was Buffy, but she didn't know, and wouldn't understand that I loved her both for that, and for the woman that she was, now. She would never understand who I really was, or the things I had done. Knowing it all would only wound her more deeply than she already was. Her reality was already slipping away; what right had I to burden her further, by taking away her best friend?

I sat vigil beside her through the night, drawing the blinds when the dawn threatened. I was not going to leave her again, whatever her reaction might be when she woke.

Some part of me wished that her talent for empathy could extend to the undead.  Then, she would intuitively know how I felt about her, and no explanations would be necessary. No words would need to pass between us, there would simply be an understanding... an acceptance... the simple, unquestioning camaraderie her ancestor and I once shared.

It was selfish, but it was how I felt. I craved that simplicity... if only she would remember...

Buffy had. Despite the promise of the infernal Oracles that she never would, one day in the fifth year of our marriage, the gates of her memory just burst open.  Buffy came barreling into my office, screaming and raging at me for never telling her about the day I was human -- for having been so senseless and short-sighted and wasting all those years when we weren't together, because she didn't know what I had done. I accepted her punishment... I deserved it, because she was right. There was nothing the two of us couldn't face... nothing we couldn't overcome, so long as we stood together. For all the years we were separated, I had forgotten that.

Time proved Buffy right, and we were able to spend 80 glorious years together, until the day she took her last breath in my arms, vowing with the final ounce of her strength that she would find me again.

And so she had. Buffy never made a single promise to me that she didn't keep.

But did I have the right to assume that Rain would feel the same? Would it be violating her will to ask that she give what her ancestor promised?

By the time Rain began to stir, late in the afternoon, I was no closer to a decision than I had been the long night before. All I knew for certain was that, whatever I decided would leave us treading precariously on the proverbial thin ice.

Rain Summers was a very dangerous woman, to me -- a storm in my heart and soul that threatened to wash me away in the blink of her perfect green eyes. And I wasn't sure how to stop it, or even if I wanted to.

*********************

Rain:

When I woke, my head was pounding from all the crying I'd done. I was confused... my brain muddled to the point that I could barely remember what happened the day before. The room was mostly dark. I looked over to the windows, and saw that the blinds were drawn. How long had I been sleeping?

And then I saw Angel, sitting in the chair next to my bed, looking at me. I can't describe his expression -- it was one of those uniquely "Angel" looks that seemed to say a hundred things at once, and yet was painted over by a mask of impassivity. Not that he didn't care, but that he didn't want me to know what he was thinking. Typical.

"Hi," I said quietly, too comfortable in the warm darkness to shatter it with my voice.

Angel sat forward, leaning toward me with his forearms on his knees.

"Hi," he said evenly.

His voice never betrayed his thoughts, either. Brilliant trick, that.

Things were coming back to me, now. Demons... Hell... my Calling... the fat Englishman in the bad suit... and my irrational anger with Angel for not being by my side when my life exploded into a gory mess.  I lay there, staring at him, and he stared right back. I was so tired... so completely sucked dry, inside. I hardly had the energy to move or speak any further. And Angel didn't seem to feel any compunction to do so, either. I remembered my brief flash of realization during Roger Lowenthal's visit -- that Angel's mysterious appearance in my life, and the role he chose to play in it were somehow connected to this whole Slayer business.

It didn't take long for me to find my anger again.

"Okay, Angel... let's just cut to the chase. Who are you?" I asked him, hoping I didn't need to explain what I meant.

Would he play dumb? Would he try to evade my question? His smooth brow scrunched in thought, and his eyes flicked away from me, to some spot on the bedspread.

"I'm not sure how to answer that," he replied.

I shifted a little so I could lean on my pillow and still look straight into his sad brown eyes. We'd shared a lot, Angel and I. Not so much words as moments and experiences. I felt I knew him far better than the amount of personal information he shared with me (which was, practically, none) should allow. Even though my natural empathy was useless on him, for some reason, I knew in my bones that he wasn't avoiding me, only telling the truth as he saw it.

"How about truthfully?" I said, still too tired to raise my voice, "You knew about all of this. About Roger Lowenthal... about the Slayer... about me."

Angel blinked a couple of times, then slowly nodded.

I sighed. Boy. Even though I had already more or less known the answer, it still hurt.

"Why didn't you say anything?!" I asked him angrily.

He held my gaze evenly, "Would you have believed me, if I had?" he asked, his voice never wavering, and his expression never changing.

I thought about that seriously for a minute.

"No," I admitted, "I would have thought you were nuts and told you to take a flying leap."

Angel nodded his understanding.  He had known exactly how I would react.

I sat up and fluffed the pillows behind my back, so I could sit up against the headboard.

"So... I guess the next question is," I turned and looked him straight in the eye once more, "What's your role in all of this?"

He looked at me as though my question surprised him. "I'm your friend," he answered simply.

I laughed.

"Is that funny?" he asked, his voice the tiniest bit wounded.

"You betcha!" I snapped sarcastically, "Here, all this time, I thought you liked me for my breathtaking beauty and sterling wit... when all along, you've got a thing for future superheroes. My friend. That's funny, alright."

Angel definitely got an expression, that time, but Hell if I could describe it. It was a new one... almost angry, but like all of his others, such an unreadable, confounding amalgam of emotions, I just couldn't be sure.

"Do you work for Mr. Lowenthal's Circus of Fun?" I asked.

"No," he said.

"I thought you were going to do the talking, here," I reminded him.

He looked at me seriously. "I never said that."

"Then why are you still here, Angel?" I asked him, "You're obviously not who you said you were..."

"I never said I was anybody."

Which was true. And left me kind of stumped for somewhere to go. How could I hold him accountable for lying, when he'd never actually lied?

"But you just conveniently show up one day and start following me around, saving me from dire peril, then you start chatting me up on 19th century art, and then you make me into your Karate Kid or whatever... and I gotta tell you, I    don't have a lot of 'friendships' that started out that way."

I was going for the low blow, now...

Angel considered me carefully for a few long minutes, his posture more tense than usual, as though he were arguing silently with himself about something.

"It's... difficult to explain, Rain," he said, "But you have to know. I do care about you. And that has nothing to do with you being the Slayer."

Half of me wanted to take him at his word. The other half, however, wanted to punch him square in his gorgeous face.

"You'll have to excuse me if I find that hard to believe," I said.

Angel nodded. "I understand," he said. If I'd hurt him, he didn't let it show.

We stared at one another, and damned if there wasn't that feeling again... my heart pounding and a wind rushing through me that whispered secrets I thought I should know, but didn't know how to comprehend. My fury didn't abate one bit, but a deep melancholy joined it... an ancient sadness that didn't belong, and it broke me, deep down inside. I didn't want my life to change. I didn't want my destiny to have a capital D, and I didn't want Angel to be anything more or less complicated than what he appeared to be -- a mysterious, handsome stranger who somehow, for some reason I couldn't fathom, cared about me.

"Why did you seek me out?" I asked him, "How did you know?"

It was obvious he had an answer to that already prepared -- I wondered if he had sat and thought about it all night.

"I have friends who know about all of this business. They told me you were to be called. I wanted to help," he answered.

It seemed to make sense, if you took the words at their face value. I didn't. I would never trust that easily, again.

"Why?" I asked.

He looked at me seriously, and once again, I felt that pain coming off of him, and flowing over me, as though we were connected, somehow.

"Because I knew a Slayer once before. And I know how difficult and dangerous that life can be. I wanted to make it easier on you," he said.

It was a heartfelt speech, even if it didn't completely answer my question. It touched me, and I felt my kinship with, and love for Angel grow larger than my confusion and anger.

"I just wish you had told me... said something... so I would be prepared," I told him, looking away. His gaze was too intense for me to handle.

"I prepared you the only way I knew I could," he said, "I taught you to defend yourself. Slayers are usually called long before your age. I thought it was more important to help you survive than to help you understand."

"I still don't get it, Angel. Why you? Why would you risk yourself to help me? You didn't even know me."

"Maybe I know you better than you think," he replied cryptically.

I winced. "What the Hell is that supposed to mean?"

He shook his head. "Does it really matter why, Rain? You have to know... I do care about you, very much. That's why I chose to come forward. I wanted you to have all the help you could get when the time came."

Another realization suddenly dawned on me. A little thought that made so many moments of the past year make so much more sense.

"That's why you won't get involved with me," I observed, "Because you know I'm going to die."

He blanched visibly, and became a shade paler than his usual pale.

"You're not going to die," he objected, "Not while I'm around."

"But..."

"No, Rain... I can't... we can't be together, like that. You need to be focused on your duty. On staying alive, not on getting involved with me," he said, "Believe me. It would do you more harm than good."

I watched his attention draw inward... watched him walk away to some distant past in his mind, as he so often did when we were together. What was he not telling me?

"She died, didn't she?" I asked him, "You loved her, and she died. You feel like it was your fault. And you want it to be different, with me."

Angel didn't respond, but his pain was clear, for the first time, on his handsome features. My heart absolutely broke for him, my anger instantly forgotten. I sighed and sunk back down under the covers. I knew more, now... but the knowledge was incomplete, and didn't make any of what lay ahead any easier to face.

But somehow... whatever his secrets might be... having Angel beside me did. I looked over at him once more.

"Okay," I said, "You don't have to tell me. I'm just... I'm glad you did come forward. I'm glad you're here. I do need you."

I was terrified, and he knew it. And then Angel -- "I can't get closer than three feet away" Angel -- took off his wool greatcoat, and kicked off his shoes, looking down at me with unbearable tenderness. Then, he climbed into my bed and lay tight against me, holding me in his arms as I broke down in tears once again.

"I'll keep you safe, Rain," he whispered as he pulled me close, "I promise."

Angel:   Rain cried for three hours straight. And then, she slept for another seven. I held her close to me the entire time, watching each minute tick by on her antique alarm clock, no longer caring if she should suddenly wake and realize that she couldn't feel my heartbeat against her. It was a fear I had felt acutely many times, when she and I were close. Only one of a great many reasons I tried to stay far away from her, if I could. She was the Slayer, after all. What if she suddenly, instinctually, knew what I was? Would she scream? Would she run? Would her vampire hunter's programming, wound deep into her DNA, kick in and force her to destroy me?

That day, the day after she was Called, and I held her in my arms until long after full dark, I no longer cared. If she asked me what I was, I would tell her. If she threw me out… if she killed me, it wouldn't matter. All that held any value to me was helping her live through this sudden and shocking transformation of her life.

Like Buffy, Rain was headstrong. Downright willful, actually, and spoiled, completely used to things being done her way without question. Now, her entire life, every minute detail of it, was suddenly out of her control, careening into a pit of darkness, which she now knew only second or third hand, was populated with evil, bloodthirsty monsters. It was too late to turn around. Even if Rain told Roger Lowenthal 'no'. Even if she rejected her Calling and tried to never think about demons again, her life was already permanently altered. She was already marked as The Chosen One. Although she technically had a choice, in all actuality, there was only one she could make. Whether she accepted the Council's patronage or not, evil would still cluster around her, attracted like iron to a magnet; now that she had been Called, the bounty on her head (undoubtedly dead or alive) would triple.

What she still didn't know was that it was too late long before the Watcher came to her door. It was too late even before I appeared in her life. She was the Slayer. Period.

I knew. And I think I mourned as much for her lost normalcy and innocence as she did. I remembered Buffy's constant struggle throughout her life, to just be like everyone else. She clung to the trappings of the life she longed for, and suffered every day, whether she shared it or not, for what she had lost because of her Sacred Duty. She had nothing left to trust. Nothing old and familiar to believe in.

Except, maybe, me? Maybe I was the key to Rain's success. Maybe staying by her side would help her to live as long a life as Buffy had.

I wept for her, and for me, as she slept, lying with my head far away from her on the pillows so she wouldn't feel my tears.

I must have fallen asleep, because when I opened my eyes, I found myself alone in Rain's bed, tucked carefully under the thick down quilt she always kept folded at the foot. From the color of the sky, I could tell I'd been sleeping for at least three hours, and it was now close to midnight.

I sat up and looked around. The light in the hall was on, and I could hear Rain moving around in her kitchen. The air was filled with the smells of rich, curried chicken, steaming vegetables, pasta, and fresh coffee. If I had been human, I’m certain my mouth would have watered. As it was... the sensations were so familiar, so much like home, I had to smile.

Rain was either feeling better, or was cooking to relieve some stress. The latter was possible -- she did that, sometimes, when she was upset. When she got a C on her Pre-Roman History final last year, she baked six dozen chocolate chip cookies. When her mother chided her for not going to graduate school, she prepared the best salmon mousse I'd ever tasted. She was a fabulous cook… upset or not.

I still hoped she was feeling better. I went downstairs and found the first floor ablaze with candlelight, and the doors to the kitchen closed. One of her hundreds of 20th century CD's played softly in the background. Stevie Nicks, I think.

I made my way into the kitchen, and found Rain singing softly as she stirred some cream sauce concoction she had simmering in a saucepan on the rangetop. I leaned over her for a sniff, an automatic, thoughtless gesture… I can't come close to describing what washed over me, being so close to her. The warm scent of her freshly-showered skin… the power radiating off of her … the smell of the food and the way her skin fairly glowed in the dim candlelight. It was utterly familiar… a feeling I hadn't had in centuries.

Rain felt like home.

I was instantly terrified, exhilarated, and heartbroken, all at once. I felt a little pang of joy clash with a larger pang of sorrow and longing. I was home again… and yet, not home at all. Unable to handle the intensity of it, I backed away from her slowly, trying to be subtle, so she wouldn't notice my discomfort.

Nothing had truly changed between us. And yet, everything had. By letting down my guard and allowing her closer to me, I had re-opened that soul-deep link that I once shared with Buffy. I had let Rain in too far behind my carefully constructed boundaries, and now the battle to keep away from her became one I was no longer certain I could win.

She looked up at me, seemingly in better spirits, and happy to see me again. Her smile lit her slowly, like a low light from inside. Her long golden hair was tied back from her face, and fell in thick ringlets down her back. But like Buffy before her, she was utterly unable to control it all, and wisps of gold stood out around her face, trailing down her sculptured cheeks and almost hiding her big, green eyes. The light struck her skin just so… and for a moment more, I forgot my habit of unnecessary breath.

More of Buffy shone from Rain than ever before, and it froze me utterly where I stood.

She didn't seem to notice my reaction, which wasn't surprising, considering all that she must have on her mind at that moment.

"Did you sleep well?" she asked, smiling sweetly up at me.

I nodded, unable to speak. After a moment, she cast her eyes down, as though she needed to concentrate more closely on the food before her.

"Thank you, Angel. For… everything, I guess," she said to the saucepan. Then she looked up at me again, her eyes wide, but holding a strength and surety of purpose I had never seen in them before. I remember the day I learned about my fated destiny… or at least, the first details of it. That look on Rain's face was exactly how I'd felt, to find out that I truly did have a place in the world, after all. "I called Roger Lowenthal while you were sleeping."

I swallowed hard, and clenched my hands so tightly that my nails dug into my skin, stinging me. I had to stay in the present. I had to keep control now, more than ever, because Rain needed me. But she was so vulnerable, even with her newfound strength of body and spirit… so frightened and determined and lost that I was afraid I would do something too personal… too intimate… in order to give her comfort. I wanted to. I wanted to keep holding her, the way I had all day. I wanted to tell her how much I loved her, and how we'd made it the last time, and we would make it this time, too. I wanted so many things in that moment, standing, staring down at her over the stove.

Not my job. Not my purpose, not anymore. I was Rain's friend and her teacher, not her lover. I had to remember that, for both our sakes. I had to keep reminding myself that Rain might look exactly like her… might bear her soul and have so many similarities that it was frightening, but she was not Buffy. Not my wife.

"Oh? And what did he say?" I asked her evenly.

Rain poured spaghetti out of a large pot into the strainer in the sink.

"He wants me to meet with him for lunch tomorrow," she replied, "Could you keep stirring the cream sauce while I do this?"

I took up the wooden spoon she'd abandoned and stirred.

"So, I assume this means you've made your choice," I queried.

Rain stopped sifting the pasta, and looked at me.

"I had a choice?" she said. It wasn't a question, but a sarcastic remark. Her half smile was wry, and maybe a little bitter.

I considered her closely. "No, I guess you really didn't," I admitted.

***********************************

Rain:

We ate mostly in silence… not even a quarter of the food I made. Angel wasn't a big eater, which I always thought was weird for such a big guy. But it didn't really matter.  I'd been cooking more for something normal to occupy my mind than for realistic consumption.

We sat in the candlelit living room after we finished dinner, drinking coffee on opposite ends of the couch. He was keeping his distance once again, as though today had simply been too much for him. And suddenly, it didn't really bother me, anymore.  I knew we were close... even if we weren't... close.

"So, you've… you've killed vampires before," I stated.

Angel nodded. "Many times. And not just vampires, either."

I looked at him, at the way the golden candlelight flickered shadows into his fine features. I didn't want to know what else… or, who, maybe?… he had killed.

"You're a hunter, then? I mean, is that what you do for a living?" I asked him. I'd known Angel for over a year, and for the first time, I felt like I not only wanted to know more about him, I needed to.

"Not anymore. Not for a long time," he said softly, no doubt thinking of whatever sad reason had brought him to retire.

Remember how I always said that Angel was inscrutable? Neutral, all the time, and totally immune to my attempts to read him? Well, suddenly, now it seemed I could read him like a book. I know exactly what -- or rather, who -- he was thinking about. Why he was no longer a demon hunter.

"Since your Slayer died," I ventured.

He nodded once again. Pain edged his beautiful features, and my heart absolutely broke for him, once again.

"What was her name?"

The question seemed to surprise him, somehow, and his brow scrunched in thought, as though he wasn't sure he should tell me.

"Buffy," he answered. He said her name with such reverence, it would have made me weep if it wasn't such a strange name.

"Her name was Buffy? Are you kidding?" I didn't mean to squeak, but I was really surprised. Sounded less like the name of a mighty warrior, and more like a character from Beach Blanket Bingo, to me.

Angel gave me a look that hurt.

"Sorry," I said, contrite.

He shrugged. "It's okay."

"What was she like?" I wanted to know more… more about this woman who had my job, and died. I wanted to know better who owned Angel's heart… whose death had shattered it, and kept him so far away from me. Because now I was certain that he loved me, even if he hadn't said it. I felt it in the way he held me… the way he whispered soft comforts into my ear, like I was the most delicate, precious thing in the world. Now, he was distant again. It could only be this Buffy that stood between us.

Angel's eyes were far away, but his face brightened a bit, and he almost smiled. "She was… full of life. Smart. Funny. Caring and generous. Beautiful, and by far the finest fighter I've ever seen."

"Better than me?" I quipped. My only experiences in battle were with him, and I'm not sure he really counted as an "opponent".

He didn't seem to notice my humor. "Yes," he admitted reluctantly, "But she had a great deal more practice."

"She sounds like she was very special," I told him, and I meant it. She also sounded like a Hell of a lot to live up to, in every way possible.

"She was," he agreed.

"How did…" I started to ask him how she died, and then thought better of it, "How long were you together?"

He looked off into that distant point in space, and that pain that always hung around him like a cloud changed… intensified. Now that I could feel him so keenly, I realized that it was less mournful and hopeless, and more bittersweet. Whoever this wonderful Slayer had been, Angel had been as happy with her as he was lonely without her. I felt so sorry for him… I can't imagine what it must be like to watch your lover die.

"A long time," he said wistfully, "A lot of very, very good years."

Had they been childhood sweethearts, then? Angel couldn't be any more than 30. God, all the worse that he should have spent such a significant portion of his life with her, and then lost her.

"I'm so sorry, Angel," I said, reaching out to touch his arm, and glad to find that he didn't pull away, "You must miss her a lot."

He turned and lay his now slightly teary gaze on me, and smiled sadly. "I do. But she is always with me."

Wow. I could only dream about someone loving me enough to feel that way, even after I was gone…

Which might not be too long, if everything Roger Lowenthal said was true. Angel must have seen my face change with my thoughts. His expression focused and softened, and he actually reached out and took my hand in his. Took. My. Hand, and gave it a warm squeeze. He looked deeply into my eyes, and I let his special glow wrap around me, soothing me.

"It feels better, to be with you," he said, his voice low and soft, "Knowing you… helping you… eases the pain."

My heart leapt suddenly into my throat, choking me. I was just going to suffocate and die in his affectionate gaze, without ever laying hands on a single monster. I wonder how that would look in the Slayer History books. But his hand wrapped around mine was like the completion of the circuit that always buzzed between us… power wavered and ran from the point where our skin touched, and washed over me like a summer breeze, full of sweet aromas and promises of comfort…

"I… I'm… glad," I managed to tell him, and squeezed his flesh more tightly against mine.

Angel's face became very serious, but he didn't let go of my hand. "I want to keep helping you, if you'll let me, Rain. I want to help you live a good, long time."

I said nothing. What… WHAT, I ask you, could I possibly have said? I don't think "Thanks" was quite adequate. And if I said anything more complicated than that, I was either going to babble, giggle, or cry, and none of those seemed appropriate, either. My best friend… my love. He could push me away, but I knew it was true. I knew we belonged to each other.

Of course, as soon as I thought it, I felt guilty. Who the Hell did I think I was, that I could replace the memory of his beloved? That I was good enough to stand in the place of a woman who inspired such adoration and loyalty in him?

"What you're facing," he went on, "I wish I could tell you it will be simple, or even that having me with you will make it easier. It won't. You'll be in danger every moment of every day, for the rest of your life."

I stared at him, still woozy from the spell our entwined hands wove, but still hearing exactly what he was saying.

"Thanks. That's comforting," I said.

Angel moved closer to me. I could feel that electricity jump between our thighs, and the attraction became as physical in that moment, as it had been spiritual, the moment before. I was more confused and overwhelmed than ever. Angel was… a lot. That's the only way I can think to describe it. He was big and powerful in far more than just body.

"I'm sorry, Rain. I wish I could tell you something more positive," he said sincerely.

Then, he took my other hand. He held them both while I tried not to swoon (No, I SWEAR, SWOON like a Victorian woman with her corset pulled too tight!), looking even more deeply into my eyes, if that was possible at that point, causing the closest thing to a panic attack in me I think I've ever had. And THEN -- did you think this moment could get anymore exciting? *I* sure as Hell didn't! THEN, he said:

"One thing I can promise you. You can always trust that I will be here for you, no matter what comes. I will always watch your back, and do whatever I can to protect you. Never doubt that I would die to keep you safe."

I just sat there like an idiot, melting, holding his big hands and trying to remember how the Hell to make my lungs work. I could feel his desire… I could feel that he wanted to kiss me, right then, as if to bind his vow. I knew it as if he had told me so.

But, true to form, he didn't. He kept looking at me like that, for a long time. Then, suddenly, the connection was cut off, and he slowly pulled his hands away and stood.

"You up for some swordfighting? I want to address that weak lower left with the broadsword," he said casually, as if he hadn't just pledged his undying fealty and loyalty to me. As though he hadn't just promised to give his life for mine.

I blinked, listening to my heart pounding in my chest. Then, I took a deep breath.

I smiled. "Sure, if you think you can handle it," I said lightly, "Why the Hell not?"

*********************

Angel:

There was a new energy to her, that night. From the way she helped me rearrange the furniture to clear space for us to spar, to the way she kicked me clear across the room when I attempted to use her not-so-weak-anymore lower left to my advantage, she was all new. Full of Power. On Fire.  Like Buffy, only more so.

The fact that Rain still wanted me there was amazing, to me. After she found out I knew about her Calling before she did, but never warned her, and she still trusted me.

Rain was an incredible woman. Fighting with her that night changed my mind about a lot of things -- But most notably, I wanted to tell her the truth. All of it. About me, about Buffy, about her identity… I wanted to open my soul to her, and let her step inside, at last.

My admiration for her grew by the moment. She laughed and quipped mightily as she expertly kicked my ass, and damned if she didn't make me forget all of my reservations about she and I, after a while. I wanted her like I hadn't wanted anything in a very long time.  I let myself want her.

But now wasn't the right moment, for that. Rain already had too many burdens to bear, and would have for a while, I was certain. There was now no question that I would be honest with her, and let her judge me for herself, but the only questions that remained were "How?" and "When?". And would my confession include my feelings for her?

The last was a matter that would require far more than one night, to decide.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain:

Angel told me he was a vampire one night while we were out on patrol. Just like that. Bang. Okay, so that's not strictly true. He started the talk during which I'm sure he planned to tell me, but in the end, I guessed.

It was a pretty routine night, like a lot of others we'd shared in the three months since my Calling. We met at my place just after sunset, ate a little dinner, packed a duffel bag full of weapons, and hit the streets. We patrolled through the center of downtown, and walked in wide, concentric circles in an outward spiraling pattern, until we reached the immediate suburbs, two or three miles out. It was there that we usually found the action -- demons like that "not too many people around to interfere" thing. But that night, all seemed kind of quiet on the Western front. We ended up at the playground on Mercer, swinging and talking in the moonlight.

Well, actually… *I* was swinging, and doing most of the talking, as usual. Angel leaned lazily against the swingset, but I could see that his body was still alert and ready, his eyes darting here and there at the slightest sound. He guarded me even when we were just relaxing.

I don't remember exactly what we had been talking about up to that point, which is funny, because it had really become my habit to absorb every word he said to me very carefully. I can recall some of our first conversations with perfect clarity. But this one -- one of the most important ones Angel and I ever had -- I can't remember how it began.

I do remember that I was talking about how much I loved slaying… gushing, actually. How I loved the feeling of firing a crossbow, loosing an arrow into a chest or a head, and watching one particular spot of evil just disappear before my eyes, never to harm anyone again. I told him I could just feel the joy of being useful -- of ultimate belonging, deep in my bones. I knew I was the Chosen One, and damn, was I glad.

"I can't imagine anything that would make me stop doing this," I told him, "God, I feel so alive!" I didn't laugh -- I wasn't giddy as much as so overfilled with adrenaline, my body was humming. I looked at him carefully. "How could you? How could you just stop?" My question echoed in the air around me, and the sad expression that appeared on his face compelled me to look away.

Why did he stop? How could he? It's in my blood… in my bones… I couldn't stop being the Slayer now if I wanted to. I found it hard to believe that he could just lay down his sword and retire to a monastic life of quiet solitude one day. The very idea felt totally foreign to me, and I really wanted him to help me understand.

Technically, I knew why. When his love -- his Slayer -- died, he had stopped demon hunting. It seemed to me like cutting your hand off at the wrist because you lost a finger. It just didn't make any sense.

Angel considered my question intensely and carefully. I felt him roll it around in his mind… I watched him reach back into that distance into which he always disappeared. I watched his breathing deepen, and I saw him remembering the moment when he gave up.

After a moment, he was back with me again. He walked over and sat heavily down in the swing next to me, never taking his eyes from mine.

"When Buffy died… It was… difficult, for me. I didn't see much point in saving a world without her in it."

I felt tears well up behind my eyes. I know, I should have been jealous, right? Jealous that the reason Angel and I couldn't be together was because of some long-dead love. But, I wasn't. The truth is, every time he talked about her that way, with so much adoration and reverence, my heart just sang. His heartfelt words made me feel deliriously happy and safe and content, as well as sad, as though the feelings he was professing about her were actually about me.

I don't know… Maybe I thought that my world was a better place simply because this amazingly devoted man actually existed. That feelings as deep as his ran for his Buffy were more than just the stuff that legends and songs and fairy tales were about made magic seem possible… I was happy to be in love with such a unique and loving person. And proud that some part of that person loved me, too. That made me feel more special than being the Slayer did.

Angel's warrior heart had broken, and he had just given up… surrendered… when his lady fair died. It was romantic and melodramatic, and I cried for them both.

He didn't say anything else, and neither did I. I felt all my earlier euphoric energy leak out of me like a balloon with a pinhole, and the two of us swung in comfortable, melancholy silence.

Then, something dawned on me. I slowly looked up at him, and found him already looking my way, watching me. He seemed to be almost drinking in my face… memorizing it intently while I wasn't looking. When our eyes met, he hesitated for a moment, then looked away.

Angel hadn't picked up a sword in who knows how many years. Until he met me.

I must have gasped aloud when I realized it, because he turned back to look into my eyes.

"Why now?" I whispered, "There must have been another Slayer after Buffy.  Why didn't you help her? Why me?"

He kept his gaze locked on me so tightly, I couldn't move. The look was one I've never seen on another being before… intensity… surety of purpose… fire.

"It was time," he answered simply.

I stared at him for a while.

All I could think to say after all that was: "Thank you, Angel. I'm really… honored."

He didn't mock my melodrama. In fact, he smiled.

"You're welcome," he said.

We both turned and looked out at the full moon high in the sky, and swung slowly as the crickets chirped in the trees all around us.

*******************************

Angel:

It was a truth I hadn't admitted to myself, until that moment. I had been dead, essentially… really, finally dead, since the day that Buffy took her last breath. I had hidden myself away… avoiding all contact with anyone or anything that might force me to feel… no more friends, no more demons. I couldn't die, but I made sure the world that Buffy no longer inhabited disappeared from my existence. For 200 years, I hid.

Until Rain. Until the moment I stood there outside that club and I saw her, much as I had her ancestor -- alive and innocent and bubbling with the pure, shining exuberance of the young… the joy of the living. The first time I laid eyes on Rain, I began to come back to life.

I looked at her… examined every familiar nuance of her expression as she looked out at the stars… remembered a billion moments when I had watched her, over hundreds of years… I had given her so little, and I owed her so much.

"Rain, there's something I need to talk to you about. Something I have to tell you," I began.

She broke her reverie and looked at me, worry immediately shadowing her perfect features. I knew that look well… I had seen it on Buffy's face more times than I care to remember -- that look that begged for me not to hurt her. Not to add more sorrow to her heart's already heavy burden.

"What?" she asked softly, her voice small with apprehension.

I took in every familiar curve and edge of her face as I did every time we were together. I watched Buffy's immortal essence glow from beneath her skin.

"I'm…" How was I going to say this? I panicked -- I had never just come out and told anyone I was a vampire, before, in all my many years. At least, not someone I cared so much about. Most people found out the hard way. "Rain, I'm…" I sighed and ran my hands through my hair -- a nervous habit Buffy often said left me looking like I had a frightened porcupine on my head. Right then, and most every time I did it, I wasn't terribly concerned about the state of my hair.

Rain watched my movements carefully, and a look of dawning shock widened her features.

"Oh… God…" she moaned, "You're… oh my God. I should have known!"

I looked at her.

"The ring! Oh, GOD!" she said.

I started, a little taken aback. "What…"

Rain whacked herself on the forehead, "I can't believe I'm so STUPID! How could I have forgotten that people in the 20th century wore their union symbols on their left hand!"

I looked down at my wedding band. Suddenly, I realized what she was thinking -- being the 20th century aficionado that she was, of course she would know the traditional symbols of devotion. The ring on the left hand as a sign of marriage had fallen out of favor a hundred years ago or more. Rain didn't notice, or comment on it previously, because it wasn't a piece of jewelry that meant anything to anyone in this day and age. Except me.

My wedding ring was just a part of me, as much as the skin and bone beneath it. I never even thought to take it off.

"No, Rain…" I started to try to interrupt her. She was misunderstanding, and I needed to tell her what I really wanted to tell her before I lost my nerve.

She stopped her self-flagellation, "You're married," she said flatly, "I can't fucking believe it."

I shook my head, "That's not… not what I wanted to tell you."

She stared at me strangely, "You weren't going to tell me you were married?"

I sighed. This was getting too out of control. "Yes, I was… I mean… no. I… I'm not, exactly… not anymore." I looked down at my hand again, feeling that old pain… that sharp, throbbing stab in my chest that came every now and again to remind me… remind me of what Buffy and I had shared… and most of all, that she was gone, and with her, our beautiful life.

I looked up at Rain again. She was Buffy, in so many ways. In all the ways that counted -- heart and soul. My love wasn't gone from me… not anymore. She was sitting in the swing right next to me, and I was looking into her eyes.

"Buffy wasn't just your love, she was your wife," Rain observed, her voice full of soft compassion, "You're a widower, not just a mourning lover."

Her tenderness touched me. Again, I was reminded how special she was… how lucky I was to have met her… and how much I was in her debt.

"Yes," I confirmed, "She was my wife. But that's not it."

Rain looked at me for a long moment.

"There's something else?" the fear was back in her voice, sharpening her words.

I nodded. "It's… about me. I'm not… not what you think I am."

The fear seeped away from her features, and pure curiosity took its place.

"Well, considering you've never really told me anything about yourself except that you were a demon hunter married to a Slayer that died, and that you were born in Ireland and you hate yogurt, I think I've been forced to kind of wing it. It wouldn't be too surprising if I'm pretty far off in what I think you are."

She was trying to be light… trying to soften the moment and ease the discomfort for both of us. It only made me admire her more.

"Let me guess," she went on, "You were a mercenary. Or… you were in prison… or worse, the circus!"

"I'm not human, Rain," I blurted out. There. I said it. Sort of.

That stopped her cold. Her big green eyes widened, then dilated, and I felt pinned under the weight of their suddenly sterile examination. She was in full Slayer mode in a moment, re-assessing me with calculated intensity, testing my aura and the bond between us, measuring it against the knowledge about non-humans she had in her brain.

"You're a vampire," she said matter-of-factly.

I blinked. "Yes," I said.

Rain kept looking at me, her expression interested, but devoid of any emotion I could see.

"Huh. Makes sense," she said finally.

The feeling of being under a microscope dissipated, and Rain casually began to swing again.

"You're not… frightened?" I asked. I didn't really want to hear if the answer was yes, but I had to know. I had to get all of this out of the way quickly. If she was going to kill me, or send me away, I needed it to happen now, while I had the strength to accept it.

She stopped swinging and looked at me again, "Should I be?" she asked seriously.

"No," I said automatically.

She shrugged. "Then, I don't see the big deal. I'm not really surprised, to tell you the truth."

I couldn't believe how she was taking this! Did it seem so natural to her? Was her world so convoluted now that it didn't phase her to find out her closest friend and fighting partner was one of her natural enemies?

"You're not," I said, "I… It doesn't… bother you?"

Rain chewed her lip, considering that for a moment. "No, actually. It explains a lot."

I stared at her, speechless.

She looked at me. "I've never seen you outside during the day. You hardly eat or drink at all. You avoid mirrors. You never touch me when I'm wearing my cross," she explained, "And you never, ever, excuse yourself to use the bathroom. It all adds up, if I'd stopped to think about it. Why? Were you expecting it to bother me?"

"Well… yeah," I told her honestly, "I have to say I wasn't...I… I didn't expect this kind of reaction from you."

She grinned wryly, "What, did you think I'd stake you?"

"Frankly, yes," I confirmed.

Rain laughed, and reached out to take my hand. She pulled her swing a little closer to mine, and warmed me with her smile.

"Silly. I don't care about you because of your species… or because you breathe or eat or have a heartbeat or whatever. You're my friend because of who you are. That doesn't change just because you have… kind of a colorful background."

I felt relief wash over me like a happy wave, and I laughed. I pulled her the rest of the way to me, and kissed her slowly, softly… afraid to linger too long for fear of being swept away, but compelled to at least share that small moment of my deep love and respect for her.

Don't let anyone ever tell you that you don't hear choirs of angels singing in your ears, or see fireworks lighting your vision when you kiss you soulmate, because they're lying.

***************************

Rain:

I said goodnight and hugged him tight to me, noticing for the first time that he wasn't really warm… that I couldn’t feel his heartbeat against me. No wonder he'd always tried so hard to keep his distance! I mean… that… the vampire thing… among other reasons. I shut the front door, leaving him and all his secrets on the other side. He needed to go home -- dawn was quickly approaching. We'd been necking like kids on the swingset for hours.

I leaned heavily back against the door and just reeled, overwhelmed by a million sensations. What a night! Another night that just blew a hole in everything I thought I knew.

Angel was a vampire. Talk about your big news! And I was worried that he was going to tell me something mundane like he was married or had been in jail or something. Being a demon definitely beat out any of those things, as far as bombshells go. The love of my life was a 500 year old fiend. A monster with a soul.

I frowned. No. Angel might be a vampire, but he was no monster.

I laughed out loud. Then I ran upstairs, and did a little jig when I reached the second floor landing, whooping at the top of my lungs.

He kissed me! ANGEL KISSED ME!!!!

*****************************************

Angel:

I did a lot of reading, that summer, about transmigration and reincarnation and souls in general. You would think that someone like me -- someone whose entire existence had always hinged closely on the state of his soul -- would already know all there was to know on the subject. But other than the two years Buffy and I and all of our friends spent combing the occult world looking for a way to bind my soul, I really didn't have any other exposure to materials on the matter. And that had been over 250 years ago. Needless to say, I had forgotten most of it by this point. Honestly? I didn't think I would ever need to think about my soul again, but for the vague wondering if it would be pure enough to join with Buffy's in Heaven when I finally died.

But now, it appeared that Buffy's soul wasn't in the Summerland at all -- it was firmly ensconced in the body (coincidentally enough -- or perhaps not? -- the same body) of the latest Slayer, my friend, Rain.

My friend… I say it like she's somebody I met for coffee once a week, instead of the essence of my life's only light, reborn.

In plain English, I was as deeply, desperately in love with Rain as I had been with Buffy. Which leads me back to my quest for understanding of the soul.

My feelings for Rain were something I tried with all of my might to avoid or deny. For the first year we knew one another, I kept myself at a distance from her -- both physically and emotionally -- that I thought could be considered "safe". I told her nothing about me, or my past, or her impending Calling, or her heritage. But fate, as they say, drags along the reluctant, and before I knew it, I was doing all of the things I swore I would never do -- I was letting her close to me… letting her care, and showing that I cared in return.

After I told her what I was, and she accepted me with a grace and humor I never, in a million years, would have expected, I took her in my arms (sort of… we were on a swing set, of all places…) and kissed her with all the love and respect and immense gratitude that clutched at my old, dead heart. It made me feel like a kid again… a human kid, sinking into the silky, cloudy, warm tunnel of deep, abiding love.

Hmm. That's a damned strange metaphor, when I think about it.

But then, there's the guilt. Guilt has been my constant companion for as long as I can remember. For a while, when Rain and I first met, I thought I had outrun it at last. That I had done my time, paid my debt, and was free now to wallow in the simple misery of a deathless being whose mortal mate had passed beyond the pale. Existing without joy, without purpose, to be sure, but I also never had to feel guilty again. I was faithful to my love, and I thought, to myself, and I simply waited for the end of time to come and reunite me with her.

But… Rain. I stepped out of that comfortable frying pan of mourning and right into the blazing fire of making the same mistakes I made with Buffy all over again. I'd started taking steps to correct my error-- I told Rain a bit about my life, and I told her what I was. But then, I kissed her.

And guilt showed up on my doorstep once more, laden down with that same old familiar baggage, more than ready and willing to pick up torturing me right where it left off. Kissing Rain made the little ball of passion that had curled in the deepest part of me since the day Buffy died explode into new and colorful life. I was in love… in lust… in admiration and helpless worship of her all over again.

I was weak. I'd been weak for as long as I'd existed on this plane… and now I felt like a heel. Like I was cheating on my beloved wife. But was I? If Rain was Buffy reborn, wasn't I simply fulfilling my vows as her husband? We never said "till death do us part". We said "until the end of time". I'd been the one to insist on it -- knowing it was entirely probable that I would outlive her by thousands of years, but also knowing full well that no matter how many eons passed, I would still love her. I made that part of my promise to her, so the sentiment would be forever bound by my word of honor.

So, being in love with Rain couldn't logically be seen as a betrayal of my feelings for Buffy, right? The more I learned about the transfer of souls and the wheel of rebirth, the more I was beginning to believe that.

But was my love for Rain as Buffy's reincarnated self a betrayal of the individual Rain was, in her own right? Of that, I was even less sure. But before I could get any more deeply involved… before I could move on beyond the initial stages of romance… before I could really tell her how deeply she was entwined with my soul, I had to find that out.

There were no sacred texts to point my way, on that one. No trusted friends to offer me advice. No Watcher to whom I could turn with such complicated metaphysical questions.

Except one.

*****************************

Rain:

I don't think I'd ever been so completely, utterly happy in my whole life. In fact, I'm sure of it. Colors seemed brighter, food tasted better, every song I heard brought Angel, and the way he made me feel, to my mind.

I'd busted my ass for over a year to break him down. And the minute I stepped aside in deference to the memory of his beloved Buffy, he turned around and claimed me. Talk about your weird plot twist!

I tended to babble a lot, in those days… and sigh, and smile mysteriously at minute details about the world around me, like bees buzzing and children laughing. It was like I had a secret that separated me from everyone else… and not because I was an undercover demon fighter, either.

In other words, I was in love. Crazy, wacky, flipped-out, rubber room insanely, in love. With a vampire, sure, but he was still Angel, and Angel is all the stuff every girl's dreams are made of. And now, in at least some small way, he was mine. Tall, dark and gorgeous like a model out of a fashion vid… mysterious and complicated; intelligent, gallant and sensitive, like a character from some old-fashioned romance novel.

See what I mean about the babbling and the sighing? Angel got to me, like that.

One kiss, and it was like all of the barriers he'd carefully built between us came crashing down. Another one, and I was swept away in a current of desire like a woman who hadn't touched a lover in a million years. I was starving for him, and it didn't feel like I would ever be sated.

I wanted him more than ever. And all of a sudden, I started seeing some small hope that I might actually have him.

The irony of three facts was never far from my mind: 1.) That Angel came as part of a confounding package known as slaying, packed full of monsters, sacred callings, and fat little Englishmen with really bad taste in clothes and a tendency to "cluck" at me a lot. Did I already mention the monsters? Which leads to: 2.) Angel was, technically, one of the monsters. Not that I would ever use that word to describe him. Angel was a lot of things -- infuriating… sexy… mysterious… but not a single one involved any measure of evil. But he was still a demon -- the ultimate irony. And, finally, 3.) Buffy. Angel had been deeply in love with her for hundreds of years before I was even born. In love with her so deeply that when she died (imagine my joy to find out of natural causes, at over a hundred years old!), he remained completely faithful and alone… until he met me. I was honored and flattered by the distinction of being his only post-widowhood girlfriend, but I also knew full well that that meant I would really always be number two in his heart. He'd never show it, of course. He lavished me with more love and affection than I'd ever experienced before. But I still knew my place.

So, being involved with Angel wasn't without its little problems. But damn it, I just didn't care! Most of the time, I just felt like singing and bursting into spontaneous little dances in odd places, like the supermarket.

What a paramour he was… (I stole that word from Roger Lowenthal. It makes romance sound like a foreign cabinet post, doesn't it?) Every night that I didn't have to patrol, he took me somewhere… walking hand-in-hand through gardens bursting with night-blooming flowers… dancing in the open-air clubs in the Spanish Quarter… or eating at restaurants where the chef brought your food to you for your examination before he cooked it. I liked that.

Angel treated me like a princess. When in Date Mode, he handled me like a precious, delicate flower, with tender caresses and gentle kisses, like he might break me if he was too gruff. That kind of treatment might have bothered me, a little. I mean, I’m no wilting flower, you know? That is, if he hadn't still done his level best to kick my ass when we trained. I had nothing against being treated like a lady, but I still wanted to be acknowledged as an occasionally kick-ass bitch. Considering my position, there was just no way any other guy would ever be able to see and respect both of my distinct personas.

Angel did. He gave his attentions to me equally, always, as both woman and warrior. And he was my perfect compliment on both levels, as if he'd been created just for that purpose.

So… romance. Great battles. Lots of emotional intimacy, further developing friendship, and lots of good, old-fashioned violence. The perfect relationship.

That is, if you don't ask about the sex. Not that the sex was bad… just that it… wasn't. We weren't having any. I could tell by the way Angel moved… how comfortable and sure he was in his body, that he would be an amazing lover. In fact, I thought about that fact so much, it often drove me to distraction at really inopportune moments. Like when the Larchah demons jumped us in the sewers under the Grant Street Mission one night. I was so busy observing the way his perfectly tailored pants draped over his incredible hindquarters, I was flat on my face from a blow to the back of the head before I even knew we had company. Very, very bad Slayer form.

Of course, Angel didn't hear them coming, either, so I have to wonder where his mind was…

But, the way things were going, he could have had a porno movie all scripted out in his head, with he and I as the stars, and I would never have known it. We did a lot of kissing… a lot of innocent necking and hand-holding, and general cuddling… but after three months, I was starting to feel a little weird that our physical relationship wasn't developing any further.

I know, I sound like Robo-Slut. But if you could see Angel, you would know exactly where I'm coming from. Just looking at him sometimes made me break out in a sweat. But still, we never even removed any clothing around one another. It was like being in high school again, full of attempts to express all-consuming desire with chaste half-touching.

In all fairness, I did understand why he was so hesitant to get as involved physically as we were getting emotionally. Angel was an old-fashioned vampire -- the former was a very profound and important expression of the latter, to him. A commitment in and of itself. And I know he was still struggling with some measure of guilt about his late wife. It was hard for him to let me as close to him as he had -- he'd been alone for so long, with nothing but his memories to comfort him, that allowing a whole new, living woman into his heart was more than a little harrowing. Feeling the way he did about sex, adding it to the mix would be something I was pretty sure he just wasn't ready to handle.

Yet.

But I understood, and I never pushed. I let him know how desirable I found him… how much I wanted him… but when he stopped, I stopped. I never wanted to hurt him, and I never wanted to give him a reason to regret letting down his guard for me.

So… holding pattern. Or, rather, not-holding pattern. Which, really, might have been a blessing in disguise, as I was so pumped full of energy, I swear I was in Super Slayer mode every time I spent time with Angel… and sometimes, for days afterward.

Roger Lowenthal was impressed with my ability and drive. He was not, however, impressed with the fact that I had a freelance demon hunter for a boyfriend, who spent a considerable amount of time training me outside of the Watcher's official sanction. Or that I had a boyfriend at all, for that matter. (Only, like I said, he used the word "paramour".)

He told me that a Slayer with close personal attachments was a distracted, unfocused, eventually very dead Slayer. He insisted that I give up my social life and my demon-hunting paramour, and concentrate on my duty. He told me to "keep my mind on the game" or something stupid like that.

I told Roger Lowenthal to mind his own fucking business.

"Miss Rain, do you not see that your energy is dangerously divided if there is another party for whom you feel responsible when you fight? A moment's glance to determine the fate of the other is long enough for your downfall. What would be the fate of the world then, hmm?" he lectured.

I stared at his fat little face and fought the urge to poke the lenses out of his annoying wire-rimmed spectacles.

"Angel can take care of himself," I told him testily.

"Can he, then? And how exactly, is it, that your young friend knows so well how to battle demons?" he grilled me. Roger Lowenthal was constantly probing me for information about my "mysterious tutor". Thankfully, I didn't really have a whole lot. And what I knew, I had no intention of sharing with my Watcher. I was thinking the Council wouldn't look any more kindly on me dating a 500-year-old vampire than they had when he was with Buffy (and 250 or so).

"Family business," I told him cryptically. It wasn't completely a lie. The Slayer was his wife, and she was a demon hunter. Wife equals family, so…

Roger kind of scowled at me, and launched into his usual lecture about legend and prophecy and rules and sacred birthrights. He went on and on AND ON about duty and responsibility and the fate of the world, blah blah blah…

Not that I didn't take my Calling seriously, because I did. But I think Roger Lowenthal and his Council were those sort of stick-up-the-butt types that sat around and made up rules all day long because they were too wimpy to get out there and get their dainty manicures ruined by kicking ass.

So I tuned him out, like I always did, and thought about my meeting with Angel later. But 15 minutes into what I knew from experience was an hour lecture, Roger Lowenthal abruptly fell silent. I looked up from my open-eyed snooze, and saw his beady little eyes were bolted on the office door behind me. I turned to look and see who had violated the very private sanctuary in the very public library.

"Angel!" I said, all of a sudden wide-awake and totally breathless as I got up, "What are you doing here?"

He looked around the room, soaking up every detail, before his eyes settled on me, and he smiled.

"You said I should stop by sometime and see where the action really is," he said seriously. Thankfully, he didn't mention the fact that I had said "action" sarcastically. The only action going on here was dust settling on the ancient books.

Roger Lowenthal stood like his crumbling Italian loafers were nailed to the floor behind the big table, staring at Angel. He had a funny look on his face, like he recognized him from somewhere, but couldn't quite put his finger on where.

Who knows? Maybe he was in the old Watchers' books somewhere.

Angel strode confidently forward, rounding the big mahogany tale with his hand outstretched.

"Mr. Lowenthal. It's a pleasure to meet you at last," he said, friendly as you please. Like he wasn't a vampire introducing himself to someone whose life's work was devoted to ridding the planet of his kind.

What a gracious diplomat. Angel certainly hadn't gotten any positive impression of Roger Lowenthal from me that would make him eager to meet the man. I mostly said he was an insipid, stuffy dipshit. But leave it to my buddy to handle things this way, whatever I had told him. He liked to find out this sort of thing for himself.

Roger hesitated for a moment too long before returning the gesture, and his doughy hand disappeared into Angel's big, lean one. As they shook hands, Roger's eyes went a little wide, and he seemed to yank back a little too quickly.

Damn good thing Roger was never concerned with looking calm and cool, because he was far from it, right now. His discomfort was obvious.

Could he tell that Angel was a vampire from holding his cold hand? From some weird aura reading or something? Angel looked like he'd fed recently… his skin had a healthy glow that almost made him look alive. It stood to reason that it might make him warm, too.

Angel gave me a quick reproachful glance that clearly said, "You didn't tell him, did you?"

I shrugged apologetically.

Roger Lowenthal continued to stare at Angel as if he was a creature form another planet. I sat there watching them sizing one another up.

"So… what brings you by, Angel?" I reverted quickly to my first, and simplest, question.

He dragged his soulful eyes away from examining my Watcher to look at me.

"I was in the neighborhood," he said.

In other words, he was following me. I smiled at him like a ninny. It was just like he had dropped by to introduce himself politely to my father…except that I really didn't like Roger Lowenthal at all, and I didn't really give half a shit what he thought about me. But, it was still a pretty gallant gesture.

"Rain, would you please excuse us?" Roger said out of nowhere, never taking his eyes off Angel, "I would like to speak to… your friend… alone for a moment."

I looked at him, confused. "What?"

My Watcher's eyes narrowed as they set on me. "I would like to speak to Angel alone. Please. Wait for us in the library."

Now I looked at Angel. The expression on his face was neutral -- that old stony mask that hid whatever he really thought about what was going on. After being so close to him for the past few months, that old barrier hurt like I was banging my head against it. He glanced in my direction, but said nothing before returning his eyes to Roger once more.

So, I got up. "Why don't I just go home?" I suggested, trying to sound much calmer than I really was. I didn't know what kind of pissing match Roger was about to start with Angel, but frankly, I was tired, and in no mood to sit out in the main library all night while they went at it.

"Fine," Roger said absently, once again fully absorbed in looking at my vampire.

"See ya," I said snidely to Roger's back, then, to Angel, "Come by when you're done, if you want."

Angel nodded and gave me his subtle 'don’t worry' smile before he looked at Roger again. They were facing off like a couple of grizzled old gunfighters, and it was starting to give me the shakes. Worried? Who, me?

****************************

Angel:

Once Rain was gone… completely out of the building, as evidenced by the slamming of the library's enormous front door, I turned to look at Roger Lowenthal once again. His expression hadn't changed since his initial display of shock when we shook hands earlier. It was a look of surprise, but it was also a Watchers' gaze: cold, calculating, and full of arcane knowledge.

"You know who I am," I said to him, keeping my eyes locked tightly on his.

Was that fear I saw flicker there?

"I do," he confirmed, "I should have known before, when Rain spoke so highly of you and your experience in our field. If she had thought to mention that you were a vampire… I most certainly would have realized," he said to me, and slowly sat in the chair behind his desk.

Typical Watcher -- hiding behind his title and position of power because he was too impotent to face humankind's worst fears head on. In all my hundreds of years, I had only met two men who were exceptions to that rule -- two Watchers who had grown far beyond the confines of their calling, to evolve into men of infinite wisdom and admirable courage. Men both Buffy and I had trusted implicitly, and who had come through for us in more ways than I could even recall accurately, anymore.

But, again, they were the exceptions. The rule was that the rest weren't worth their weight in salt. I couldn't judge Roger Lowenthal on this single meeting, but if Rain was even close in her assessment of the man, he too would certainly prove true to formula.

"Perhaps," I said.

He gave me a smile that was less than friendly, especially considering what he said next. "Does Rain know what you are? Who you are?" he asked as I took a seat across from him. He folded his hands on the desk and regarded me with a smug certainty that he was about to have his suspicions confirmed.

"She knows what I am," I informed him.

Roger frowned. "I see."

I didn't like the way that sounded. But I wasn't there to butt heads with the man and whatever outrageous legends the Council might have invented about me.

"I didn't think it was appropriate for me to tell her about her lineage," I told him, "I think she has enough on her plate already."

The Watcher's pale eyebrows rose. "You want to shelter her, then… Keep her from learning the truth about you."

I frowned, not liking the position Roger Lowenthal was putting me in. He expected me to justify my pattern of half-truths with Rain, as though my past and what I felt about it were any of his business.

"Do you think it's wise to tell her everything?" I asked him, "What possible good could that knowledge do her?"

"I think she should know… really know… what she is getting involved with," he volleyed.

His choice of words incensed me. This was not a game I was going to let the little man win. I had my own relationship with guilt. I had no need for his attempts to give me more.

"Have you told her about her soul?" I asked.

It was a fairly decent shot, on my part. Roger Lowenthal's frown intensified.

"No," he admitted, "I had hoped it wouldn't be necessary until the right time arrived. I hadn't been anticipating your appearance."

I leaned toward him, feeling a little jolt of victory, and yet, a pang of fear and anger, tug at my gut. "The right time for what?" I asked.

Roger looked at me for a long moment, obviously debating how much he was going to trust me. I'm certain he had never had to consider such a thing about a demon before.

"Are you familiar with the D'Archit, Angelus?"

I wasn't. But it was his conscious choice of names to call me that hit a nerve.

"It's Angel," I corrected him politely, "And no, I'm not."

The rotund little man got up from his chair and walked directly to one of the many floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in his office. He glanced briefly over the spines crowding one shelf, and pulled a small, but thick black volume from among them. Then, he returned to his seat, and handed the book to me across the desk.

"These are prophecies and sacred texts of the highest order. More than the Pergamum Codex, more even than the Tiberius Manifesto, the D'Archit contains by far the most comprehensive, detailed, and accurate accounts of the evolution of Slayers. Of their origins, their unique importance to the human race, and their ultimate place in the universe."

I stared at the rather benign looking leatherback with no small feeling of wonder.

"There have been Slayers for thousands -- perhaps hundreds of thousands -- of years," Roger went on, "Each is only a building block in the larger structure of the Forces of Light. The D'Archit tells of the Immortal Slayer; the eternal essence of the final line of which Rain is only the latest. However, she is no ordinary Slayer, Angelus…" he caught himself, "My apologies -- Angel. The reason we waited for so long to call her was because we had to be certain she was the particular Chosen One which we sought. I think perhaps you should read this volume. It will certainly give you a better understanding of Rain's unique… lineage, as you say, as well as her Ultimate Destiny."

I held his gaze. "I will," I promised him, and rose to leave. I had a feeling the book Lowenthal gave me held all the answers I had been looking for. I was no longer interested in gaining his approval or esteem, and certainly cared nothing about what he might have to say about me and Rain. "Thank you."

"Angel…"

I turned back.

"Your part in the life of the Immortal Slayer -- the Kahtah, as she is referred in the D'Archit -- is no small one. Don't be so quick to ensnare it once more in human emotions and misguided attempts to find love. Your part is Guardian to Rain. She is not the First One… not your wife. Don't forget that."

I glared at him. "I imagine this book will tell me all I need to know," I said with as cold an edge as I could muster.

"I doubt that," he replied nastily.

I left without another word, afraid I might break into a Rain-style fit of cursing if I opened my mouth again. I really wasn't fond of Roger Lowenthal. But at least I had been correct in thinking he would have some answers to my existential and metaphysical questions.

I leafed through the delicate pages of the D'Archit as I walked toward Rain's house. Sanskrit… Aramaic… Latin… The thing was a hodgepodge of writings from numerous sources in a number of languages, only a few of which I understood. It was going to take me a good, long while to read it.

Not for the first time, I wished fervently that Wesley and Giles were still alive. At the very least, they could have helped me translate this thing. But, ideally, they would also have offered understanding ears, unwavering support, and sage advice, as my close friends.

I missed them.

*********************************************************

Rain:

Angel came by my apartment after his meeting with Roger Lowenthal. I had cleaned up a bit -- took a shower to wash a day's worth of library dust from my skin, and changed into something a little less Slayer-ish, and a little more like a female human being. It wasn't very often that I got to dress without having to worry about grass or bloodstains anymore, and I had every intention of using it to my full advantage.

I thought about Angel during every moment of it (especially the shower)… about his gallant meeting with Roger Lowenthal, especially. Had he really only come there to meet my Watcher and to put the human's fears about his Slayer training with some strange man to rest? I mean, what could they possibly have to talk about that I couldn't be there to hear?

More secrets, no doubt. Despite my growing closeness with Angel, and his slowly continuing self-revelations, I knew I hadn't even touched the tip of the iceberg of his 500-odd years of life. There were still a million, billion things I didn't know about my Angel. And I was willing to bet that he and Roger Lowenthal were discussing some of them.

But, truthfully? It didn't matter as much as I thought it might. In fact, I found it surprisingly easy to forget all my paranoia about Angel, and drift into infinitely more pleasant daydreams of warm chocolate eyes and big, cool hands… and other parts of him I hadn't been lucky enough to see yet.

It was so funny, how right he'd looked, standing there all big and broad like a giant shadow in the library. He spoke to my Watcher like he did that sort of thing all the time, with an innate confidence that was just absolutely mind-blowing.

Angel was obviously an old pro at walking in a Slayer's world -- at walking in my world. He fit so perfectly, it was hard to believe that all of his experience had been with someone else, instead of me. We were a natural team, working together like we'd been doing it for centuries, perfectly able to predict each other's every move and act in perfect, smooth accordance.

Together, Angel and I were a supreme demon-killing machine… and a damned fine looking couple, if I do say so myself.

That energy… that, I don't know… link, I guess, that always flowed between us made it feel like we'd been exactly like this -- emotionally and in action -- forever, instead of just under two years. I wondered a lot -- how does that happen? Are all those old theories true, that everybody has a natural mate… a soul twin, so to speak… and they're fated to meet over and over again, across lifetimes? Had I known Angel in some ancient past? I'd never really been much for that kind of philosophical mush before -- I wrote it off into the same "implausible" column where I put things like… oh, say, vampires, for instance. So maybe it was high time for me to start to question some of my other beliefs, as well.

I really started to give the matter serious consideration when I thought about Angel and our physical relationship (or lack thereof). Nice irony, isn't it? Leave it to me to think about spirituality in terms of sex. But there was something… like memories, almost. Pictures in my mind… No, not pictures, more like vague sensations. I knew Angel's body. I'd never even seen him with his shirt off, and yet I knew that he liked to have his belly licked.

Tell me that's not twisted.

But that wasn't even the half of it. I was pumped full of hunches and feelings about Angel… what he liked and didn't like… his favorite things… Stuff there's no way I could have known, and yet, I felt like I did. Personal, intimate stuff that he had never even come close to sharing with me. When I fantasized about the two of us together, it felt more like I was remembering, than imagining. I couldn't help but think that Angel and I were just made for each other.

And now that he was "out", so to speak, to the only person even closely resembling an authority figure in my life, I thought maybe it was time to push things just that little bit further. Test my theories in the field, if you will.

Call me one-track-minded, but I had every intention of getting at least some -- ideally all -- of his clothes off that night. I was so incredibly turned on by his now seemingly complete and flawless integration into my twisted little universe, I totally forgot that there might be other factors to consider -- like his opinion on the matter. But thinking about that would get me back to thinking about Buffy, and all the things that she was that I couldn't be, and how his devotion to her kept him so far away from me… and right then, I was not interested in going there.

So I dressed extra carefully. You know the routine -- subtle but sexy makeup, tousled hair that positively begged to be released from its clip, and just the perfect outfit -- complementing, but still leaving plenty to the imagination.

Not to toot my own horn, but back when I was Normal Girl, I had a pretty good success rate with the males of the species. I knew how to turn on the charm without being too overbearing or obnoxious (unless, of course, that was what the occasion called for). Don't get me wrong -- I was relatively picky about my partners. In that day and age, you really had to be. But I wasn't shy by any stretch of the imagination, and what I wanted, I went after, and usually got.

I put sandalwood behind my knees, if that tells you anything. I lit all the candles in my living room, and started some sandalwood incense (It's a nice touch, to match your perfume and your air freshener… it gives the illusion that the entire room is filled with you, and that knocks most guys right out of their socks. A word of warning, however… this little tactic is less effective if your intended has the senses of a well-honed predator. They tend to get less turned on, and more overwhelmed. Just so you know.), and went carefully through my antique CD's. I had one of those old-fashioned jukebox CD player thingies, so I carefully chose some selections to play as soundtrack for the evening. Some opera, some classical… some mushy 20th century stuff like Enya, Sarah McLachlan and Stevie Nicks. You know -- mood music. All stuff I had seen Angel smile at when he had heard me play it before.

Add in a nice bottle of rosι… some fresh flowers… and me. Voila! Like a neat little seduction-in-a-box.

I sat down on the couch and read some poetry by candlelight, trying to keep my wits about me and not work myself into a drooling frenzy before Angel even got there.

Of course, in setting up his seduction, I had really set up my own. I was as drawn into the whole scene as I hoped he would be. I was far away, lost deep in a daydream of his lips on my throat when the doorbell rang.

Slamming back into reality, I realized that the moment of truth had finally arrived. I took a deep breath, counted to ten, and tried to ignore Sarah McLachlan's Possession on the stereo, then went to let Angel in.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Angel:

I was lost in thought when I arrived at Rain's apartment and rang the doorbell. I had been reading through some of the Latin sections in the D'Archit, and was rolling some of the passages around in my mind. I hadn't yet gained any coherent knowledge, of course. Twenty minutes was hardly enough time to discover more than some pretty dry, standard history of the Watchers' Council and the Sisterhood. Obviously, the things that Roger Lowenthal mentioned earlier were somewhere else in the volume.

But I had memorized every word that the Watcher had spoken to me in the library. He spoke of Rain being part of a particular line of Slayers, of which he had implied Buffy was the first. And I was said to be her Guardian -- not a complete surprise, as I had always considered myself that, to some degree. But those two things, and Lowenthal's further implication that this prophesied line of Slayers -- both of whom I had loved -- was somehow tied in to the ultimate fate of humanity gave all the things I thought I knew about their Calling a distinctly different slant.

It also gave me some insight into the nature of my relationship with the soul that resided in Rain, as well. Unfortunately, the Watcher had also given me the distinct impression that my romantic entanglement with Buffy's soul was somehow improper… for reasons beyond the most obvious. Once again, I was forced to pause, step back, and reconsider where I was going with Rain. Did my emotions for her somehow confound the duty she was fated to perform? Had it with Buffy? Had I somehow knocked her away from her true calling? Was there some danger I might do the same to Rain?

I decided while I waited for her to answer the door, that I would have to slow this down. I couldn't just jump back onto this freight train of emotion that I had so long ago ridden with Buffy. I needed to know more about my true role in her soul's existence, first.

As the door swung open, I was thinking, 'I have to tell Rain we have to back off a little, for now.'

Then I looked at her.

She was… breathtaking. I found all notions of Slayers and Watchers and souls and destinies wiped utterly from my mind as I took her in, and found my thoughts full of Lord Byron:

She walks in beauty, like the night…

Rain wore midnight blue velvet… a long, dramatic dress that plunged nearly to her belly, but lay soft, somehow, leaving her secrets still hidden securely beneath. Its material draped over the perfect lines of her curvy body, and smoothed down over her arms, just past her wrists, leaving only her fingertips exposed. Like Buffy before her, Rain kept her nails long and perfectly polished. She wore her hair up in a clip, with her trademark unruly tendrils handing down, shining as brightly in the candlelight that lit her from the back, as the silver choker she wore.

I noticed that it wasn't a cross… and it highlighted the curve of her fine throat deliciously.

"Hi," she said, her smile deep and warm as she moved aside to invite me in.

I stood there, staring at her for a long moment. She smelled so sweet, like sandalwood. The scent was everywhere, flowing out with the warm air from the house, as though Rain filled every inch of space. My senses reeled, and I found myself nailed to the spot where I stood.

The little glint in her eye told me that she expected my response -- she'd wanted it, and now was clearly glad that she had gotten it.

"Helloooo…" she said, her seductive smile changing to just a hint of a wry grin as she waved her small hand in front of my eyes, "Are you still in there?"

I shook my head to clear it. "Yeah… sorry. I'm here."

I finally managed to move inside while Rain bolted the door behind us. Then I followed her, completely without lucid thought, like a lost child, my eyes riveted to the long, tanned slope of her back that the dress revealed, into the living room.

She motioned to the couch with a perfectly even nod of her head. "Sit," she ordered me gently.

I sat, still clutching the D'Archit in my hand. Rain poured two glasses of wine and handed one to me before she sat down. She glanced at the book I held, then back at me again.

"He gave you homework?" she asked.

I looked at her, confused for a moment, then realized what she was talking about. "This? No. It's just something Lowenthal suggested I read," I told her.

She gave me a look. "Uh huh. Well, bully for you. Guaranteed it'll be boring then," she teased, "So did he freak out on you?"

Her question startled me, a little. I hadn't really thought about it. "Not really. He was actually pretty calm, considering."

Her beautiful head tilted a little to one side, "Don't tell me he didn't get the whole vampire thing."

I had to smile at that. "He got it."

"And you're sure he didn't freak out? No, 'Oh, Sacred Duty!' or 'Fate of Humanity' Blah blah bliddy blah?"

Rain was a true poet -- an artist of modern English in exactly the way that Buffy and her friends had been. Her speech was a wry running commentary on the nature of reality that provided a depth of description unavailable to a more formal speaker. I'd forgotten how much I missed that incredible, if sometimes confusing, turn of phrase.

"Well, there was a little of that," I admitted.

She nodded, satisfied, "I kind of thought there would be. Well, at least he didn't try to stake you." Her face became serious. "He didn't, did he?"

I chuckled. "No. No stakes. Not even a threat."

Her broad smile returned. "You'd kick his ass anyway," she assured me.

"No doubt."

A bit of silence fell over us while we sipped our wine.

"Angel…"

"Mhmm?"

"Can I… ask you something… kind of personal?"

Her voice was soft, and a trifle unsure. She was suddenly a woman who wanted something, but wasn't quite certain how to broach the subject of what it was. I should have tried to dodge this one, but I was lulled into relaxation by the atmosphere, and her comfortable presence. I didn't see where she was about to go.

"Sure," I said simply.

"This is going to sound weird." There was something else in her voice, along with the uncertainty.

I looked deep into her eyes. "It's okay."

She needed to know that she could ask me anything. I wanted her to know that. I wanted to give her all the answers to all the questions she had ever asked in her life.

"I just… um…I, uh…Jeez. Listen to me, like a friggin' virgin or something," she muttered under her breath.

One thing about Rain that was unique -- her language. Not the colloquial slang I mentioned earlier, but her tendency to swear like a truck driver in uncomfortable or upsetting situations. I set my glass and the book on the coffee table, and turned to face her fully.

"Rain… you can talk to me about anything. You don't have to be afraid."

She smiled. A real smile. "Okay… so. You and I have gotten pretty… close… and we, uh… we have this… this," she gestured between the two of us, "thing going on, and… I like you… you like me, and… Jesus… You know, I really thought I was going to be a lot more eloquent, here."

I smiled, but tried not to laugh at her. Rain's sudden shyness was so out of character -- she was usually bold and sassy, and pretty much felt free to say whatever it was that was on her mind. This new, softer side of her was one I didn't often have the privilege to see. It only endeared her to me more, and I waited patiently while she struggled.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain:

GOD, IT WAS AWFUL!!! I was choking like I had tried to swallow a fireplace log whole or something! Yeah, that's real seductive, Summers! Impress the man with your sterling wit! Just bowl that cool, older, sophisticated guy over with your brilliant and ever so smooth repartee!

I stopped, took a deep breath, and plunged forward once again in plain English. "Listen. I'm not going to beat around the bush. I know this area is kind of sensitive to you, but I need to be honest," I leaned toward Angel, took both of his cool hands in mine, and fell deeply into his eyes. In that moment, that weird feeling of connection, of familiarity, was stronger than it ever had been before. What I was saying, what I was trying to do, felt right. Perfectly and completely right, as if it was exactly what I was supposed to be doing. "The fact is, Angel, I'm crazy about you. I have feelings for you that I've never felt for anyone else before in my life. And I think that we're intimate enough that… maybe we can start thinking about taking this… whatever it is we have… a step further. Do you get where I'm coming from?"

Angel looked right through me with those fathomless mahogany eyes. They were filled with so many emotions, I could barely pick out one.

"I'm not sure," he said.

Maybe he just needed to hear me say the words. I'm not afraid of words, so what the hell?

"I want to make love with you, Angel. I want us to be together, completely."

I was totally, and I mean TOTALLY, unprepared for his response. I shouldn't have been, though, right? I mean, it took him over a year to kiss me! And he still wore his wedding ring 200 years after his wife's death! I don't know what I was expecting. But I know for sure it wasn't what happened.

Angel flinched as if I'd slapped him, and pulled away from me. He was utterly taken aback -- totally shocked. He sat back against the arm of the couch, blinking furiously for a few moments. Then, as quickly as that little fit of emotion overtook him, it was gone. The only reason I didn’t just puke right on the spot was because, although he physically pulled away, Angel did not put up all the old defenses that he used to use to keep me away. He stayed fully with me, and fully open to me, despite his sudden discomfort.

"Okay…This was obviously a mistake. I'm sorry I brought it up," I said, feeling a mad blush sneak up on me as I poured myself another glass of wine, then topped his off, "You look like you can use this as much as I can."

His posture relaxed, a little, and I felt that pain flow from him again for the first time in a long while. He watched me down my glass of wine, and pour another.

"Rain, I'm sorry."

I SO totally didn't look at him. If I had, I probably either would have started screaming, or I would have just jumped up and run out of the room. Instead, I just sat there in my very fancy SUCKER outfit, and DIED.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Angel:

"I'm sorry, Rain," I told her. It felt lame even to say it, because it implied something I didn't mean. And from the way she reacted, practically collapsing in on herself, I knew that she assumed I was rejecting her advances. And in a very rude way.

I wasn't. Believe me when I say that I wanted to make love to Rain like I hadn't wanted anything in centuries. But the moment she said it, all of my old doubts, plus the new ones Roger Lowenthal had so kindly instilled in me that evening, came crashing back to the forefront of my memory, breaking the easy, sensual spell her eyes seemed to cast on me.

I moved closer to her, feeling like a complete heel, and tilted her head up so she looked into my eyes. Even if I couldn't find the words to explain what I was feeling -- and I was fairly certain I couldn't -- I hoped maybe at least she could take some comfort in the truth she saw there.

"Please. Don’t think I don't want you. I do. More than you know."

She met my gaze. "But…"

"But… it's more complicated that what I want, or what you want," I explained.

Rain frowned -- a tiny blight on her otherwise flawless features. "I swear to God, if you tell me 'we don't belong to ourselves, we belong to the world', I will punch you in the face."

I smiled. That was almost exactly what I was going to say.

She saw my expression and rolled her hazel eyes, "You and Roger Lowenthal are like two peas in a fucking Sacred Duty Pod."

I stroked her blushing cheek with the tip of my thumb, and softly kissed her. I traced a little line with my lips to her fine ear, shivering all the way.

"Rain, you are the most desirable woman I have ever known," I promised her, "And someday… maybe…" I pulled slowly away and looked at her seriously, "But for now, I think we need to take it easy. *I* need to take it easy. There's a lot going on in our lives right now that we don’t really understand yet. And if we rush this…"

She nodded and smiled sadly, more or less resigned, "Yeah. I know you're right. This is a lot," she relented, and laid her hand over mine on her face, "But it would be a whole hell of a lot easier if you weren't so bloody gorgeous."

I laughed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain:

I had a dream that night…

I sat alone in the middle of a field of wildflowers, near the edge of a cliff somewhere. I was wearing one of those flowing white sundresses and a big straw hat, and I was waiting for Angel with a daisy in my hand, and played "He loves me, he loves me not" as the sun warmed my face.

"He loves me." Pluck.

"He loves me not." Pluck.

"He loves you," came a voice from nowhere, and everywhere, all at once. A familiar voice -- one that was almost exactly mine, but with an echoing quality, like a chorus of me's speaking.

I looked around me but saw nothing. I shrugged and looked down to return to my game, but all the daisy's petals were already gone. It was as if the ethereal voice had taken the last one when it told me he loved me.

Huh. Well, it was a dream, after all. Roger Lowenthal taught me to pay attention to my dreams -- that the workings of a Slayer's subconscious were almost always important. It took me a while to figure out that some of them really weren't. I wasn't sure which this one was, yet.

"Where are you?" I asked the air.

"Here, in you," I/she/they replied.

"Oh," I said. "Okay, then who are you?"

"They call me many things… I have many names," she replied.

Which still didn't tell me what to call her. Great. Vague and nonsensical. I was losing any hope I had that this might actually be a useful dream.

"He loves you," the voice repeated, "He needs you. He doesn't fully realize or understand it yet, but he will."

"Angel?" I asked, just to double check.

The chorus became suddenly soft, sad, and wistful. "Yes."

"Angel loves me," I repeated. I wanted to get her meaning perfectly clear in my own head.

"Yes," she confirmed, "He has loved you since time immemorial."

Huh. "Well, he has a funny way of showing it." I tossed my now bare flower aside. I wasn't the first. Didn't this dream know that Angel had loved Buffy before me?

"Don't give up on him, Rain. You need him as much as he needs you. You are tied together. He is confused by that."

"No kidding," I said, "How do you know so much about it, anyway?"

There was silence for a moment. "Because I know him. I know you. That is the way it has always been."

I felt like I was sitting at the feet of some insane guru -- only there was no guru, and thus, no feet. Just my head. I sat quietly, waiting for her next profound missive.

"You love him. You must trust in that, always. That love will guide you… light your way when the path is dark. Be patient with him -- in so many ways he is only a child, and so vulnerable. He will learn, in time. He will stop being afraid of what was and can never be again."

Ah. Right. "You mean Buffy?" I kind-of snapped.

The voice said nothing, and I felt like I had hurt its feelings somehow. I didn't like that sensation, at all.

"I'm sorry," I told her, "I didn't mean…"

"It's not important. Just trust who you are. Trust who he is. You will know the way soon. Keep him close to you, because you are one. Always…"

I woke, nestled snugly in Angel's lap on the couch. He slept quietly, sitting up, his head leaning against a throw pillow on the arm. I noticed after a moment that the blinds weren't drawn. Trying not to wake him, I go up and closed them against the dawn that threatened just under the horizon.

I returned to the couch and looked down at his peaceful face. His lips turned up in the barest hint of a smile, his breathing was deep and even. I wondered why he bothered to breathe at all. Habit? Comfort? I wondered even more what he was dreaming about. Did the chorus that spoke in my voice speak to him, as well? Would it give him the same advice?

Most of all, I wondered how I could possibly adore another being so much as I did him. The dream had been right about at least that -- I needed him. I also wanted him, and loved him.

As I lay back down, and rested my head against Angel's still chest, a place safer and more comfortable than anywhere else I'd ever been, I believed what the chorus had told me. We loved each other. We were one. It was only a matter of time until we worked out the details.

Rain:

The night I tried to seduce Angel (almost giving him a heart attack, I think… I mean, if he hadn't already been dead…) wasn't the last time that I dreamt of the Spirit in the Meadow. In fact, I started hearing her in my sleep almost every night. She was always sweet and kind, if a little cryptic, full of sage, if vague, advice about my life in general, and about Angel, especially. She and I almost, kind of became friends -- I felt like I knew her as well as I knew myself, and vice versa (even though I didn't really know much about her, at all…). I could tell her anything, and I often did -- after all, I didn't get to spend much time with my old friends anymore, and talking to Angel about Angel, well… But the Spirit always seemed to understand exactly where I was coming from, and always gave me her honest opinion on how to handle things.

Looks like I'd gained myself a fairy godmother! Of course, she would never really tell me any of her "many names", with the exception of one: I called her Kahtah, at her insistence.

Kahtah never gave me a straight answer when I asked her a question. She always made me "look inside" myself for the knowledge I sought. Talk about your big fat pain in the ass! Of course, I understood what she was trying to do (if not, exactly, why) -- she was trying to teach me to rely on my own instincts; depend on myself.

But so far, my instincts hadn't served me very well, where Angel was concerned. I found myself backing away from him more and more, emotionally. I mean, after two years of pounding your head against a brick wall, sooner or later you're bound to get a headache, right? Well, my skull had split wide open, at this point, and my brains were starting to dribble out onto the floor. I was learning my lesson about Angel, and learning it hard.

I decided once and for all to step back, and finally allow him to fully set the pace. I knew he cared about me… I knew he wanted to be with me… and I knew that the issues that kept us apart were all his. So, I started acting like that was the case.

We didn't spend any less time together, really, or devolve in any way, except in the intimacy/mush department. We stopped holding hands while we patrolled, stopped stealing kisses at stoplights, stopped dancing to old ballads in my living room by candlelight…

In other words, we ixnayed on the omanceray ("nixed on the romance" in Pig Latin). We didn't discuss it; I just stopped wooing him. And slowly but surely, he stopped wooing (if what he had been doing could really be called "wooing" in the strictest sense of the term) me, too. If he noticed, he didn't show it. Big surprise, there. The rest of our relationship -- the fighting, the training, and the casual friendship -- remained exactly the same. He might not have noticed, but *I* sure did -- and I missed what I thought had been developing between us. But I also knew what we already had was important. Angel's presence was so central to my life, I couldn't imagine him just not being in it. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't giving up on my love for Angel, or the gut-wrenching desire to be with him -- not even close. I was just giving him the space I thought he needed to work things out.

That was when the other dreams began. While my romance with Angel in real life came to a screeching halt, the one in my subconscious exploded. The visions were intense, and vivid -- totally three-dimensional, in every sensory way. I could feel him; smell him; hear his beautiful voice and even taste the salty sweet cool of his skin in these dreams. I dreamed of a million moments between us, taking place over who knows how many years, like I was imagining a whole life that I hadn't gotten to experience.

And what a life it was. Angel and I fought like the fierce warriors we were, both against the forces of darkness, and with each other. We laughed and we cried and we made love until our bones ached… We even left each other, a couple of times.

When I woke from those dreams, they stayed with me, as if they had been part of my memory all along, and seeing them in my sleep returned them to their rightful place in my mind. I could reminisce about soft moments Angel and I shared… that Angel and I never really shared. So, essentially, *I* was still having a full and passionate love affair with him in my subconscious, but he wasn't having one with me, outside of it.

I was ready to check myself into the loony bin, after a while. Sometimes I would just sit and stare at Angel while he was doing something perfectly ordinary, and be thinking about some argument we'd never had… or some particularly romantic moment we'd never shared.

But wait, it only gets weirder. I started practicing my lucid dreaming techniques, trying to note even finer details about my increasingly vivid dreams. I would wake up and just immediately write down everything I could remember from the night before. It was when I started doing that when I realized how fucked up I really was. In my dreams, I was Buffy -- the other Slayer. Angel's wife. I knew this because he said my name (it was my name; it was me, in the Dream world. Sometimes I could see myself clear as day… maybe with my hair a little different, or maybe I was a little thinner, but it was still absolutely me.) all the time, like a favorite prayer. "Buffy…" he said it with a particular inflection… a whisper with a question at the end.

I was freaking right out, all set to finally have a breakdown, once and for all. Was I so repressed and pathetic from all the wild shit that had been happening the past few years that I had to pretend, at least in my dreams, to be her? Did I feel so inadequate and lonely that I had to cast myself in the role of the only woman Angel had ever loved?

My buddy Kahtah wasn't very helpful in this matter. She kept saying, "I can't answer that. You must find the wisdom inside yourself." She didn't seem to want to hear that this was coming from "inside myself"… how could I find the answers in the same quicksand pit of dysfunction?

So, I started drinking bucketloads of coffee so that by the time I came down from the caffeine rush enough to fall asleep, I passed out. Dreamlessly. No weird identity switching dreams, no cryptic fairy godmothers in sunlit meadows, nothing -- just good old crazy Rain and her shiny new path to total madness.

That, Angel noticed (although I suspect he probably noticed the romance stuff, too.). And he didn't waste any time calling me on it. He would casually mention how slow my reaction time was getting… how I looked worn out. He always asked if I was okay, and offered to take patrol alone so that I could have a night off. Eventually, he started encouraging me to see a nutritionist… or a doctor.

I laughed at that last one. The only doctor I really needed was a shrink.

"It's no big," I told him, "I swear. It's just… I haven't been sleeping well."

His brown eyes narrowed a little, which made me wonder -- was I the only one having freaky dreams?

I didn't ask him, and he didn't say. He just continued to tell me to take better care of myself.

Yeah, right. I was totally coming unraveled, and I didn't think that there was anything anybody could do about it. So I just dealt. Sort of.

One night, I sat in Roger Lowenthal's office in the library, long after he had gone home, reading about dream theories and alternately staring into space. My pen died (not that I had done anything really constructive but doodle on the pad beside me anyway...), so I got up and went around to the other side of his desk, shuffling through the big side drawers for another one.

Man, for a such a sanctimonious prig, Roger Lowenthal sure was a pack rat -- he had one of everything in those drawers: paperclips, pens, pencils, postcards, rubber-bands, old stamps, packs of gum, old Rolaids wrappers… and keys. TONS of keys on one of those old-fashioned janitor-style keyrings. Hundreds and hundreds of keys that probably opened every door in this old building -- and possibly every room in every other public library from here to Chicago.

But one bunch stood out from the rest… mostly because they were brand new padlock keys, tagged with little orange strips of paper marked "WC ARCHIVES".

"Watchers' Council Archives." Those dark, dank, dusty old closets in the lowest sub-basement, where I was expressly forbidden to go. The histories and artifacts of every Slayer that had lived in the US for some five centuries were locked away down there…things so valuable, Roger Lowenthal said he would never so much as let me take a breath inside those chambers. Any time we needed something historical from the archives, Roger Lowenthal would crawl down there all by his little self to haul up whatever it was. In fact, he'd usually have already procured the book or whatever before I even showed up. I had never once set foot in the Slayer Archives.

I stared at that set of keys for a very long time, enraptured, as though I was one of Arthur's Knights, and I'd just stumbled upon the Holy Grail while out for my morning constitutional. All that history… all those fallen Slayers, my sisters… I could discover more than I ever wanted to know about my Calling.

I could find out more than I ever wanted to know about Buffy Summers…

I snatched the ten-pound ring of keys and made a crazed beeline to the service stairs. It was roughly seven hours until dawn, when Roger Lowenthal always came back on duty after his requisite seven-hours-of-rest-except-in-emergencies.

I had an awful lot of reading to do, before then.

 

 

PART TWO 



| Fiction Index | Home Page | Back |